Let’s take a north-south journey along Route 213 to savor the sights and bites of Maryland’s Eastern Shore. First stop: Woody’s Crab House (29 S. Main St., North East; 410-287-3541, woodyscrabhouse.com). Messy types can dive into a platter of Uncle Bud’s baby-back ribs and a pitcher of Woody’s own Honey Brown Lager. But if you want the real deal, it’s hard-shell crabs all the way. The same goes for Waterman’s Crab House (21055 Sharp St., Rock Hall; 410-639-2261, watermanscrabhouse.com), where diehard crustacean junkies swear by the steamed crabs and Dorothy Boots’ secret-recipe crab cakes.
The next power trio along 213 is the Chesapeake Inn (605 Second St., Chesapeake City; 410-885-2040, chesapeakeinn.com), Bayard House (11 Bohemia Ave., Chesapeake City; 877-582-4049, bayardhouse.com) and the Tap Room (201 Bohemia Ave., Chesapeake City, 410-885-2344). The Chesapeake Inn’s outdoor tiki bar is the epitome of an all-day party venue. Just don’t expect to bury your face in a pile of steamed crabs; this trend-conscious kitchen has other things on its mind. Lunch of champions at the Bayard House consists of a spicy Bloody Mary, a cup of sweet Maryland she-crab soup, a plate of plump, crunchy soft-shells, and a cocktail at the 200-plus-year-old Hole in the Wall bar for dessert. The Tap Room serves up Old Bay-or garlic-steamed crabs and plenty of old-school, budget-conscious seafood platters.
Back on 213, a southwest twist will take you toward Kent Narrows and Fisherman’s Crab Deck (3116 Main St., Grasonville; 410-827-6666, crabdeck.com), home of spectacular sunsets, spicy crabs, hearty clambakes in a pot, and whimsical ice cream drinks like the Dirty Banana. The Granary (100 George St., Georgetown; 410-275-1603, granary.biz) boasts an impressive view of the Georgetown Harbor. Crab bisque and memorable sunsets are the house specialties.
With football season upon us, it’s always good to have a few game-day options at the ready, especially when you’ve got a crowd of thirsty men in tow. Places like South Philly Taproom (SPTR), where there’s no “scene,” and both the staff and clientele are pleasantly down-to-earth. As it turns out, the beer and well-crafted comfort fare alone are worth the trip.
Self-taught South Philly chef Michael Zulli ditched his gig at Bridgewater’s Pub in 30th Street Station to shake up SPTR’s kitchen, bringing with him a passion for game meats. A vegetarian for 17 years, Zulli returned to the land of carnivores with a single bite of boar bacon.
SPTR is sporting a new menu, but the now-legendary wild boar burger, the Rocky Mountain oysters and the poutine—French fries smothered in cheese curds and gravy—are still there, as are plenty of lighter dishes and vegetarian fare. Rather than settle for the comfort of onion rings with a fancy aioli, Zulli chars baby octopi whole and serves them on an oily bed of seaweed salad. The octopus—mildly seasoned with sambal, a spicy Southeast Asian condiment made from chile peppers and salt, and drenched in olive oil and lemon with a dash of parsley and lemon—was lovely, but the seaweed salad was fattened up and dragged down by too much olive oil.
Marinated for two days in tequila, and finished with a dusting of lime salt and agave nectar, the satay-sized ostrich skewers nicely complemented our heaping bowl of strawberry and Gouda salad. Using whole artichoke hearts would’ve made the fried artichoke gyro more manageable, and the tzatziki sauce tasted more like mayonnaise than yogurt. Mahogany-hued, wafer thin, flawlessly crispy and just salty enough, the potato chips were positively addicting.
SPTR’s selection of American craft brews—13 on tap and 80-plus bottles—includes beers from local breweries like the just-reopened Philadelphia Brewing Company.
1509 Mifflin St., Philadelphia; southphiladelphiataproom.com, (215) 271-7787.
For Miguel A. Castañeda, venturing into the restaurant world came on a whim. But nothing about the concept, look and menu for his ¡Cuba! was left up to chance. Finding an experienced restaur-ant manager was easy: His son, Michael, had been a corporate trainer for P.F. Chang’s and part of the management team at the ChopHouse Restaurant in New Jersey. Chestnut Hill’s cobblestone streets and small boutiques, not unlike those in Miami’s Little Havana, gave Castañeda a boost in the ambiance and décor department. And recipes from his Cuban parents (immigrants who opened a meat shop and small restaurant in the Bronx) and friends (including a former chef from the Marina Hemingway Yacht Club in Havana) also helped to make his flight of fancy a reality.
By the time White Dog Café’s Jake Bukowski signed on as executive chef, Castañeda’s vision was clear. With its distressed walls that double as an art gallery, live Cuban jazz (on Friday evenings) and dishes that lean more toward traditional than modern, the restaurant offers a taste of Cuba in a cozy neighborhood environment. Mojitos are the house elixir (Castañeda is in the process of applying for a liquor license, but it’s BYO for now). The menu’s homey touches include large puffs of homemade bread served with a zesty lime butter, and rustic dishes like smoky black bean soup, tangy ropa vieja (shredded beef with onions and peppers in a savory tomato sauce) and lechon asado (roast pork served with a corn tamale and pickled green beans). More contemporary creations include the summery, spicy watermelon gazpacho and raisin-studded fritas de picadillo, mini Cuban hamburgers served on tostones with an olive-and-caper tapenade.
8609 Germantown Ave., Chestnut Hill, (215) 967-1477.