Chill out at Big Pickle in St. Michaels

While he was in California and New York researching ideas for his future restaurant, Talbot County chef Chad Scott found the places where he had the best time were the places where he was the most relaxed. His 85-seat gastropub in St. Michaels, Md., Big Pickle Food Bar (209 S. Talbot St.; 410-745-8011), which opened last week, reflects his journeys. The knotty cypress and the palette of aqua and green and baby-blue tables – what Scott calls a “beachy, Ralph Lauren look”– spell c-h-i-l-l.

“There’s no part of the building that’s staunch or stuffy,” says Scott, who helped design the two-story restaurant with Dolores Antwerpen. She and her husband, Baltimore car czar Jack Antwerpen, own the venue, a former retail store.

Most recently, Scott, a 1998 graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, was the top chef and general manager of 202 Market in Roanoke, Va., but before that, he ran the kitchen at Mason’s in historic Easton. He brought two sous chefs from 202 to join him at Big Pickle Foodbar, which gets the first half of its name from the term of affection Dolores Antwerpen uses for her husband.

By day, the gastropub focuses on soups, salads and deli-style sandwiches; come evening, the menu gets a little dressier. Diners can still order deviled eggs or a burger, but there’s also salmon in a crust of wasabi and pistachios, a New York strip steak with creamed corn and, this being Maryland, crab cakes.

Anytime, of course, there are fried pickles to be had. Sandwiches average $11; dinner entrees hover around $22.

Neat flourish: A Chill-Rite system at the bar that dispenses beer at 32 degrees and spirits at 5 degrees.

“If you just want a cold beer and a Reuben, you can get it,” at Big Pickle, says Scott, who also serves as the general manger. “But you can get a gruner [veltliner] and seared scallops, too.”

Open only since June 28, Big Pickle is doing big business. The chef reports an average of “300 covers a day.”

Weaned on a beige buffet a la “Fargo” in Minnesota, Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post. This is his second tour of duty at the Post. Sietsema got his first taste in the ‘80s, when he was hired by his predecessor to answer phones, write some, and test the bulk of the Food section’s recipes. That’s how he learned to clean squid, bake colonial cakes and distinguish between nutmeg and mace.

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