Oysters and Rockfish and Crabs – Oh My!

Over the years, the two of us have visited the ports of Talbot County aboard sailboats and powerboats, paddled her marshes and peddled her country lanes from village to village. We have joined the throngs in Easton at the Waterfowl Festival, marveling at the avian art and delighting in the retriever demonstrations, and we’ve luxuriated at waterfront B&Bs on secluded country estates. But on this visit, we had a specific mission in mind: we were intent on discovering some of the best dishes at some of the best restaurants Talbot County has to offer. We were in hot pursuit of oysters and rockfish and crabs, what some describe as the Chesapeake Bay’s “holy trinity.” 

We knew from the start that we’d never be able to cover as many of the places as we’d like on the few days we had to spare, but we were determined to do our best. As with any good mission, we planned our strategy carefully. My partner and I began with a review of the official Talbot County website. The list of restaurants and eateries is as extensive as it is alluring. 

There are dozens of seafood places, ranging from tables covered with butcher paper to white linen tablecloths. However, seafood is not the only option among the plethora of eateries. There are those serving Italian, Asian, Mexican and South American and all-American burgers and BBQ. Others offer just breakfast or just lunch, or concentrate on baked goods, sweets and ice cream, like the highly recommended Scottish Highland Creamery at the Oxford Mews.      

But our quest was for seafood. Me, I’m a sucker for oysters. My better half favors crabs. And we both enjoy fish dishes. We booked a room at the Tidewater Inn smack the center of Easton’s historic district and headed straight for the Hunter’s Tavern for a late lunch. The highlight was the cream of crab soup, full of big chunks of lump crab meat and adorned with a dollop of sherry. 

Cream of crab soup at Hunter’s Tavern.

We walked off our meal with a stroll around town. We spent the afternoon browsing among the many art galleries and antique shops—and of course stopped by Vintage Books on Washington Street. We toured the Third Haven Meeting House, an inspirationally austere wooden building built in 1684 with timbers hewn with broadaxes. Notably, William Penn worshiped there. We hadn’t been since Quaker friends of ours were married there 40 years ago. William Penn sailed back to England on a ship, while the newlyweds departed the scene on a motorcycle. 

Our appetites revived, we strolled down Harrison Street to have dinner at Legal Assets, a bistro featuring craft food and spirits. It was a little too cool for seating in the outdoor garden, so we took a booth inside. I was tempted to try the rockfish, but opted for one of the specials: blackened blue channel catfish on a bed of sauteed spinach. It was served with lemon beurre blanc sauce festooned with lump crab meat. It was so good, I forgot to take note of what my partner ordered. 

Neither of us are big dessert eaters, but the flourless chocolate cake proved too enticing to resist. The texture was more like chocolate mousse. We fought over the last spoonful of the ricotta cream topping. We were grateful that our room was nearby.

Delmarva Omelet at Hunter’s Tavern

The next morning, we enjoyed breakfast at the Hunter’s Tavern. I devoured the Delmarva Omelet with Virginia ham, Maryland crab, spinach and cheddar cheese, while Amanda, just this once, passed on the seafood and went for a parfait layered with yogurt, oatmeal and fresh fruit. 

For lunch, we drove to St. Michaels for the oyster stew at the Inn at Perry Cabin. It’s named for Capt. Oliver Hazzard Perry, hero of the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812. There are portraits of him in the lobby, along with a wooden ship’s figurehead carved in his likeness. The expansive dining room looks out over the Miles River, which we admired from our table by the bank of windows. The stew lived up to its reputation, with plump local oysters in a rich broth lightly flavored with ginger and lemongrass. 

On our way out of town, we stopped by the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum to see the progress on their new visitor center. Construction is well under way. When it opens in the fall of 2023, it will house the gift shop and two exhibit spaces as well as the visitor center. Incidentally, I’ve heard that the museum has purchased the property where the Crab Claw restaurant is located. Museum officials are still working out what they’ll use the site for, but meanwhile, this will be the Crab Claw’s last season, so plan to go soon if you’re into steamed crabs. 

Blackened catfish on sautéed spinach at Legal Assets.

For Amanda and me, it was off to Oxford for dinner. We took the ferry from Bellevue, of course, and had a stroll along the town’s main street. Like the ferry service, the town dates to 1683. The Robert Morris Inn was built as River View House in 1710 and has served as an inn since 1800. George Washington indeed slept there, as did Revolutionary War financier Robert Morris and other Founding Fathers, not to mention James Michener, who is said to have outlined his novel “Chesapeake” here. 

We had an early dinner at the inn. Amanda started with a special wild mushroom salad with cranberries, cherry tomatoes, smoked bacon and sprinkles of feta caressed with a truffle oil dressing, while I sampled the smoked bluefish pate with crostini and a lightly dressed green salad. 

For our main courses, we shared a special flounder with crab Imperial over zucchini and baby potatoes and the inn’s famous crabcake with zucchini and potatoes. The crabcake’s crisp panko breadcrumb crust tenderly bound big chunks of lump crab meat kissed with tarragon. Utterly stuffed, we were tempted to take a room for another night, but deadlines and dog sitters made us recall that the drive home wasn’t all that long after all. 

Earlier, on our way out of St. Michaels, we had stopped by Ava’s Pizzeria and Wine Bar and ordered a large pizza to take home for future reference. A friendly baker who referred to herself as a “pizza-rista” set my hand-crafted pie to bake in the wood-fired oven. While I waited, I popped next door to the Eastern Shore Brewery. I wanted to consult with an expert to find the proper local beer to pair with pepperoni. The owner recommended the Vienna Lager and I bought a six-pack to go.

Somehow the pizza made it home intact and the lager, indeed, made eating it an extra special treat when I reheated a couple of slices the next day.

On the drive back to the Western Shore, we debriefed on our mission and decided that it was a marginal success. While every dish we tried surpassed our expectations, and every venue we visited was a truly delightful experience, we were disappointed not to have had the time to dine at other restaurants and explore other towns in Talbot County. For instance, I’ve heard that Chesapeake Landing in McDaniel is, without a doubt, the locals’ favorite. And then there are all the spots on Tilghman Island. Ah well, we’ll try those the next time we venture across the Bay.