Hooked on Fresh Fish and More
If you're looking for
a fabulous beast with the head and wings of an eagle and the body
of a lion, you'll have to be patient while scrutinizing Griffins
in the prime location at 22 Market Space on the City Dock in Annapolis.
eatery and bar that fills the space of three historic structures
also treasures its Greek mythological animals inside. Behind the
bar you'll find some creative varieties of griffins, about what
you'd expect for the beasts. In the dining room, however, are
some unique-looking female versions.
The restaurant is decorated with eclectic trappings. On one side
of the room is an L-shaped mahogany bar capped with granite. Above,
an overhead opening soars three stories to an opaque skylight.
A second story balcony surrounds the spaces, including one large
private room for special parties and banquets for up to 52 diners.
A sturdy staircase, seemingly out of a Victorian townhouse, will
get you up to the second floor where there's a large gold clock
and mahogany molding with ornate bracketing. Local designer George
Lawson assembled the sections of the timepiece while doing his
interior work on the two original 18th- century buildings and
one small alley. Suspended by wires, a super-sized toy biplane
floats above the bar. This room offers meals to bar patrons as
well as those seated at tall tables and a banquette.
On the other side of the space is a bi-level dining room with
large brick openings. Bistro chairs and tablecloths cheerily drape
wooden tables. The authentic New Orleans parade masks made of
animal feathers and framed with vintage wood are colorful and
intriguing. A raised eating area corralled by a banister separates
this elevated dining space from tables below which flank three
windows overlooking the sidewalk opposite the Market House. Hurricane
Isabel left a watermark at the height of these windowsills---about
two feet. We are told that, outside, three feet of water wrestled
to get in. Quick water vacuuming saved the day.
On an evening visit to Griffins, we chose seating near the brick
arches and began our selections with a Griffins private label
Chardonnay that proved to be pleasant and of excellent value at
$14.95 per bottle. The wine list displays a variety of choices
and affordable prices. Our attention then went to the specials
from which we chose the tasty Mexican chicken and black bean soup
garnished with slender strips of tortilla.
My ally in food chose the fresh broiled halibut with a delicate
mussel sauce. "This is uncommonly good," he quipped. I yielded
to temptation and selected the pair of South Carolina soft shell
crabs, large, juicy and crisply sautéed. Interesting combinations
of seafood, pasta and special sauces are abundant on the menu.
We finished with superb black coffee, Ellis presidential blend.
On another occasion, four of us drifted in for lunch to try the
Chester River raw oysters which were tasty and succulent. One
in our group had the rockfish "po' boy" sandwich on a cornbread
roll, with lettuce, tomato and a delicious house-made remoulade
sauce. The fish was coated in the lightest of batters. As our
friend said, "Soft rock in the background, a warm pub---all together
worth a repeat visit." The "special" thin-sliced beef sandwich,
napped in an appropriate bistro sauce (with a touch of mustard)
on French bread was just right. Still on the seafood kick, we
tried the fried oyster sandwich. A light and crispy batter covered
fresh, juicy oysters. Very high marks.
We agreed that the Griffins-label golden ale made by Clipper City
was a good choice. Unanimous cheers also went to the French fries
coated in a special batter, a standout in any crowd. Chef Randy
Ballard, a veteran of 20 years at Griffins, oversees the kitchen
staff that can feed 160 people seated at one time. The kitchen
is as efficient as an ocean-going yacht, appropriate yet miraculous
for an 18th-century site. "Fresh" is his mantra and required for
all ingredients, but scrupulously demanded for seafood. Randy
notes that each day's menus offer specials, with different menus
for lunch and dinner. General manager Mark Cammarata and four
other managers check each order for quality control.
Desserts look and sound scrumptious but will have to wait for
another tempting time. For lunch and early dinner, kids can find
their special kind of food as well.
Although well trafficked in its waterfront location as a pub and
bar, the restaurant will easily hook the quality- and value-seeking
Barry, a Pisces who resides on Mill Creek, has been a water
and food buff for three decades.