First There's Danicng, And Then Dancing Shoes

You know how sometimes a good thing is right under your nose and you simply aren't seeing it? O'Brien's Oyster Bar and Grill, at the foot of Main Street, is a restaurant I had been walking past for over a decade. Sure, I've had a bloody Mary at the bar and watched part of a football game. Someone drags me in there to listen to a band or dance once a year. I think I went to a birthday party of a friend's dad there once in 1989. But dinner? At O'Brien's? Isn't that a club?

Yes, O'Brien's does become a club at night, but earlier in the day and until they stop serving food at midnight, it's a very good restaurant for both entrées and pub fare. My fellow critic and I went in on a quiet evening, guessing that the rain kept the Monday night football fans on their couches. Our waiter was well-spoken and funny and won us over right away. When my friend said she couldn't eat something called "crab balls," he asked if she would eat "crab spheres."

We chose the oysters Rockefeller, a wonderful appetizer. We did have some trouble deciding, though. As well as regular raw bar items such as mussels, oysters on the half shell and littleneck clams, O'Brien's has a great selection of apps such as Annapolis bruscetta, garlic toast topped with crab meat, artichoke hearts and imperial sauce. Nachos, potato skins, clam strips, chicken tenders, wings, and, of course, crab spheres.

I chose the herb-encrusted grouper as my entrée. It's a regular menu item, although kinds of fish may vary depending on season and availability. It's more fish than one adult should safely eat at one sitting, but it was superb---marinated in sake and coated with Japanese breadcrumbs, oriental spices and black sesame seeds. I highly recommend it. My date had a popular entrée, chicken O'Brien's, a chicken breast sautéed and topped with lump crabmeat, ham and scallions and served on a bed of penné pasta with an Alfredo sauce. We could see why it was popular---it was terrific.

The entrée selections can basically be divided into surf, turf, or a combination of both platter types. I have heard that the steaks, filets, New York strip, and even the ribs are very good. The surf and turf itself includes a crab cake which, according to our waiter, is a consistently tasty item. The seafood platters all look tempting: glazed salmon, stuffed shrimp, Chesapeake oysters and coconut fried shrimp. There are a few pasta specials: blackened shrimp and scallops over linguine, shrimp Provencal over linguine and, for the vegetarian, penné primavera.

As well as a variety of fresh salads with or without meat, soups and chili, O'Brien's has a complete selection of burgers and sandwiches. The Chesapeake oyster boat, fried oysters served po' boy style on a sub roll, and the lobster roll stand out as something special to try, especially for those craving sailor pub fare.

O'Brien's does indeed become a club after dinnertime featuring live music every night of the week. On Fridays and Saturdays it has a full band and acoustic music Mondays through Wednesdays. According to general manager Richard Whelan, O'Brien's is the only place in town where there's a hopping dance floor every night. Thursday night is ladies night, featuring a DJ, drink specials and "free ladies-type appetizers," like chicken Caesar wraps.

They serve brunch on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with a special menu, but you may also eat regular menu items at that time. If you are looking for a place to throw a private party, O'Brien's upstairs is a good place for that as well. Better call ahead. It's a busy place!

Next time you find yourself walking past O'Brien's like I did, give it a try. Walk in the front door. The menu, the service and all that entertainment won't be a disappointment. Put on your dancing shoes and bon appetit!


What event in the Annapolis area are you most looking forward to in 2006?

Powerboat Show
Sailboat Show
Renaissance Festival
Seafood Festival
County Fair

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