Brasserie Brightwell

$$$$ ($15-$24)

Editorial Review

Casual French goes American, in a big way

By Tom Sietsema
Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2011

Nothing small leaves the kitchen at Brasserie Brightwell in Easton, Md. Ask for escargots and out comes a fleet of snails, drenched in garlicky herb sauce, on rafts of toasted bread. An order of roast chicken is enough to feed two. Its tender flesh and basting of butter make the entree easy to dispatch.

Brasserie Brightwell all but bans petite portions. "I have an enormous appetite," says Brendan Keegan, the executive chef of the casual French eatery with an American sensibility. "If I like something, I don't want it to end that quickly."

Keegan co-owns Brightwell, which opened last fall, and the older 208 Talbot in St. Michaels with his brother-in-law, Brian Fox. The younger restaurant takes its name from Keegan's maternal grandmother, "a watermelon farmer's daughter from Georgia" who made her way to Washington and married the Lebanese owner of some burger stands. The way the grandson talks about her knack for fried chicken, biscuits and kibbeh, a customer can't help but wish more than her name appeared on the menu.

Instead there are steak tartare; salt cod croquettes, each the size of a baby's fist; and whole grilled branzino, a Saturday special flanked by terrific hand-cut french fries. (In another life, Keegan was the chef at the seafood-themed O'Learys in Annapolis.) More American are the fried oysters, lobster roll and chocolate cupcakes on the menu.

Side dishes run to tomatoes that taste just as summery as you want them to and braised greens dressed simply with olive oil. Don't bother, though, with the doughy clafouti, a waste of fresh cherries and whipped cream.

There's almost as much room outside (70 seats) as inside (85 seats) the restaurant. Big and light-filled, the interior, which features a semicircular raw bar, looks nothing like the auto garage it once was. A giant clock keeps time behind the open kitchen; basil and mint leaves plucked from pots on the umbrella-shaded patio result in fresh cocktail garnishes.

Brasserie Brightwell doesn't merit a long drive. Some of the cooking is heavy-handed. But if you happen to be in or near Easton, it's a pleasant place to refuel and relax.