Crab Is in Good Company on the Arundel Menu
Thursday, April 21, 2005; Page AA50
Crab. It's the culinary mainstay of Anne Arundel County. From G&M in Linthicum to Cantler's in Annapolis, from Carrol's Creek in Eastport to Topside in Galesville, crab is the unifying ingredient in many dishes. And why not? Chesapeake Bay blue crabs provide some of the best eating in the world. And where better to eat those crabs than at the source?
Chick & Ruth's Delly (165 Main St., Annapolis, 410-269-6737, www.chickandruths.com) is the quintessential Annapolis restaurant and has been for four decades. The sliver of a space -- painted orange and yellow -- is a favorite hangout for just about everybody. Tourists jam the doorway at all hours -- the ice cream is right up front -- and cash-strapped midshipmen and St. John's College students find the prices just right. The tables are minuscule and so close together that you could butter your neighbor's toast by accident. But the menu reads like a lesson on Maryland politics, with specialty dishes named for everyone from former governor Marvin Mandel (chopped liver and corned beef on rye, $7.25) to former governor/former Baltimore mayor/current state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer (pastrami, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing on rye, $5.95), and everything you can think of is on the menu, including crab cakes. The Honey Bee Diner and Carryout (7346 Ritchie Hwy., Glen Burnie, 410-761-0477) is a more traditional diner, open 24 hours a day (Chick & Ruth's closes at 11:30 p.m. during the week and an hour later on Fridays and Saturdays) and you are apt to find regulars there at any hour. There are two Anne Arundel outposts of the Baltimore Double T Diner chain (12 Defense St., Annapolis, 410-571-9070, and 1 Mountain Rd., Glen Burnie, 410-766-9669). These glammed-up art deco beauties are also open 24 hours.
Bayside Bull BBQ (108 W. Central Ave., Edgewater, 410-956-6009, www.baysidebull.com) is primarily a catering operation that runs a small carryout. You can't get ribs at the carryout -- just from the catering service -- but the pulled pork barbecue can make you forget ribs. Slow-cooked for several hours in giant stainless steel smokers, then finished on the indoor pit (really a big wood-fired grill), the pulled pork is chunky and steeped in a savory sauce that gets its red color more from spices than tomatoes. Not far away, in the hamlet of Mayo, is the original location for the local chain Adam's Ribs (169 Mayo Rd., Edgewater, 410-956-2995, www.adamsribs.com). It's a local favorite and the parking lot is full early on Saturday evenings. There are also Adam's Ribs in Eastport (921C Chesapeake Ave., Annapolis, 410-267-0064) and Severna Park (589 Baltimore-Annapolis Blvd., 410-647-5757).
Ruth's Chris Steakhouse (301 Severn Ave., Annapolis, 410-990-0033, www.ruthschris.com) is the only one of the country's big prime beef operations that has a branch in Annapolis. The meat is top-notch, but it's still a national chain. At the other end of the same Eastport block is Lewnes' Steakhouse (401 Fourth St., Annapolis, 410-263-1617, www.lewnessteakhouse.com). A restaurant operated by the Lewnes family has been on the same site for nearly 80 years, though the steakhouse has been around for only about 10. But it looks and feels like it could have been a Prohibition speak-easy. You are hardly inside the door before you are standing at the bar. A few discreet booths also occupy the ground floor, and up a narrow staircase is the main dining room with more booths and a few tables, all dark wood and dimly lit. The steaks here come from cows raised by 4-H competitors (the cows usually had names, the menu notes) who fed them grain and allowed them to graze. The menu is no-nonsense: a couple of salads and shrimp cocktail for starters, steak and lobster for the main course. Lyonnaise potatoes are a specialty; the reserve wine list includes dozens of vertical selections (that is, the same wine from many successive years). Every steakhouse should be so good.
A strip shopping center in Glen Burnie might seem like an odd place to find great northern Italian cooking, but only if you haven't been to Trattoria Alberto (1660 Crain Hwy., Glen Burnie, 410-761-0922, www.trattoriaalberto.com). In Italy, trattorias are usually humble, family-run eateries. Trattoria Alberto is far more elegant, with ceiling-to-floor draperies that keep out the traffic noise, pale yellow walls, impressionist-style paintings and comfortable upholstered chairs. The cooking is sophisticated, the menu is extensive and the daily specials can be stunningly pricey. But the trip to Glen Burnie can seem like a trip to northern Italy. And Ristorante Piccola Roma, with its streetside view of the nightly parade along Annapolis's Main Street, can seem like a visit to the Spanish Steps, where Romans make their own nightly promenades. Silvana and Arturo Silvestrini, owners of Piccola Roma (200 Main St., 410-268-7898), are proud of their Roman roots. This is not the place to ask for a sliver of lemon with your espresso or carry on too much about Tuscany. It's like an evening in the couple's personal dining room. Maria's Sicilian Ristorante (12 Market Space, Annapolis, 410-268-2112) is the most informal of the three major Italian restaurants; the same people own Mangia Italian Grill and Sports Cafe (81 Main St., Annapolis, 410-268-1350), and the two restaurants are the best places in town for pizza.
Joss Cafe & Sushi Bar (195 Main St., Annapolis, 410-263-4688, www.josscafe-sushibar.com) is nearly as crowded as Chick & Ruth's. It does all the regular preparations well, but its greatest successes are among the long list of special appetizers, such as wild rockfish with ponzu dipping sauce, seafood salad and especially the okra tempura. Tsunami (51 West St., Annapolis, 410-990-9868) started as mostly a sushi bar. The sushi bar remains, but the place has expanded into a hip restaurant with smart Asian fusion cuisine. There's always a crowd at the bar, and the decibel level is high, but there are no timid flavors here, and nary a misstep.