Continuing the Tradition:
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
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.
Barry, a Pisces who resides on Mill Creek, has been a water
and food buff for three decades.