Continuing the Tradition: Middleton Tavern

Communication is the hot button in every arena. Imagine trying to communicate without phones, computers, Palms and all the other gadgets we know, and may or may not love. In the 18th century, the epicenter for communicating was the pub.

In the mid-18th century, the harborside pub owned by Horatio Middleton was at the other end of a ferry route from the Eastern Shore town of Rock Hall. The Annapolis Harbor offered a deep, waterfront stop at Middleton Tavern, the Market House was on stilts, and the shops and businesses around the dock were warehouses where ocean-going vessels nudged in to deliver and pick up cargo.

The law required that ferry operators provide overnight lodging for passengers. Victuals and drink were part of the fare that helped to form a natural gathering place and social center and quite a showplace with gardens that reached to Prince George Street. Middleton Tavern was the communication hub: a newsroom, gossip center, business crossroads, fraternal meeting site, dance and entertainment hall, and often the gambling room. After the Revolutionary War, the harbor silted over and Baltimore became the great port of the Chesapeake.

Today, Middle-ton's reflects the history of the Maryland colony as seen when the tavern first opened. On the walls of the dining room are a spice shelf, tobacco rack and the State of Maryland seal depicting the ploughman and the fisherman. The oyster bar illustrations depict watermen harvesting, packing and serving oysters in the bivalve's 19th-century heyday.

Our more contemporary arrival by land merited a warm welcome from the staff. A popular eating establishment for locals and visitors, our reservation was honored with immediate seating in a cozy corner in the dining room. Our server, Aaron, presented the specials in a cogent and humorous style to our group of four.

We chose four appetizers to share. The lightly breaded fried calamari served over mesclun was dressed with house-made chipolte aioli and plum sauce. Without a doubt, this calamari was the most delicate we have ever eaten; the sauce made it ethereal.

The next shared event, also a favorite with regulars, was the seafood sampler for two with clams casino, oysters Rockefeller, crab balls, grilled shrimp and scallops-all up to par served over a delightfully gentle onion and cucumber salad. The steamed mussels were tender and tasty with a wine, garlic, thyme and touch of tomato broth that required crusty bread for soaking up the last of the moist remains. The oysters Savannah were baked with succulent oysters, smoked bacon, spinach and a smidge of Pernod. We regretted we could not manage the famed seafood chowder with shrimp, scallops and clams, made daily by the oyster bar team under Chef Arthur Gross' direction---a must next time.

On to the entrees where we always lean to the specials because the chef has no doubt lavished special attention on them. Among them was the wild Atlantic salmon stuffed with spinach Rockefeller and dotted with toasted croutons. The chef's light touch was magical. Another special was the stuffed Panko shrimp filled with lump crabmeat, dusted with Japanese breadcrumbs and broiled with a mysterious kick that we learned was Old Bay.

The filet mignon Oscar included medallions of Angus beef cooked rare, as ordered, asparagus and backfin lump crabmeat with a blanket of house-made Béarnaise sauce. The luscious fresh rockfish was stuffed with Maryland backfin crabmeat, mushrooms, mustard and Worcestershire sauce and broiled in lemon butter.

Undeterred, we proceeded to the dessert and selected the crème brulee with four spoons. It was cool and, upon notice, server Aaron had it appropriately warmed to room temperature. This faultless classic favorite is a specialty of Executive Chef Arthur Gross who has been with Middleton's for 25 years. He went through the ranks from dishwasher to prep specialist, cook, to sous chef and now executive chef, somehow fitting in training with the Culinary Institute of America, the Academy of French Cuisine and other notable professional training schools. He modestly credits the Middleton team and low staff turnover for much of the restaurant's superb fare.

Middleton Tavern has many other fine choices on the menus that include brunch and catered dinners in the upstairs dining room. Guitar entertainment begins every evening at 9:45. The restaurant is open 365 days a year. Reservations are recommended.

Patricia Barry, a Pisces who resides on Mill Creek, has been a water and food buff for three decades.


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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