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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?

But you can't eat crab all the time, and Anne Arundel boasts a wide variety of restaurants for which crab isn't the main attraction and you don't have to have a boat to get there.


Chef Warren McClain serves pan-seared scallops at Carrol's Creek in Eastport. (Photos Craig Herndon For The Washington Post)

Here are recommendations for restaurants throughout the county.

Diners

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.

Barbecue

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).

Arlington-based Red, Hot & Blue (200 Old Mill Bottom Rd., Annapolis, 410-626-7427, www.redhotandblue.com) offers Tennessee-style barbecue (tomato-mustard sauce) and a whole lot more at its prominent location just off Route 50. And in Laurel, B&B Southern-Style Bar-B-Q (3250 Fort Meade Rd., 301-317-7767) describes its barbecue as Memphis-style and has a great sauce to prove it. The pulled pork is finely minced, with just a few larger shreds of meat to give the mixture some texture.

Steak

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.

Seafood

Walk through G&M Restaurant & Lounge (804 Hammonds Ferry Rd., Linthicum Heights, 410-636-1777, www.gandmcrabcakes.com) at lunchtime on any weekday and you might mistake it for a cafeteria for office workers: Everyone seems to be eating the trademark saucer-size broiled crab cake. Yes, there is a handwritten list of daily lunch specials on the whiteboard at the entrance, but that hardly seems to matter. G&M is crab cakes. If you are on your way to or from BWI, stop by for a bagful. It seems everybody else does.

Walk into Jimmy Cantler's Riverside Inn (458 Forest Beach Rd., Annapolis, 410-757-1467, www.cantlers.com) on a warm summer afternoon and you'll find most of the customers picking crabs. There may be a more pleasant way to enjoy dinnertime than taking a mallet to a hard-shell while sitting at a table overlooking Mill Creek, but not around here. It may be a little tricky finding the way to Cantler's the first time, but the steamed crabs are worth it.

If you prefer your seafood in a more elegant atmosphere , O'Leary's Seafood Restaurant (310 Third St., Annapolis, 410-263-0884, www.olearys-seafood.com) offers a wide variety of fish and seafood, expertly prepared and served by a staff that is knowledgeable and attentive. The soft-shell crabs are plump and delicious, and the crab cakes are lump crab and little else. The simply prepared dishes are just as elegant as those with lots of flourishes. Others prefer the Chart House (300 Second St., Annapolis, 410-268-7166, www.chart-house.com), with its spectacular views over the harbor. This Eastport branch of a national chain offers a dizzying array of fish and seafood dishes, all impeccably fresh. Just down the street, the Boatyard Bar & Grill (Severn Avenue and Fourth Street, Annapolis, 410-216-6206, www.boatyardbarandgrill.com) boasts a bar menu heavy on seafood, including conch fritters and blue crab dip.

The Rockfish (400 Sixth St., Annapolis, 410-267-1800, www.rockfishmd.com) is the newest addition along Severn Avenue, replacing a rather rowdy neighborhood bar. This, too, aims to be a neighborhood place, and it's already packing in diners. The Rockfish has all the details right: a thoughtful renovation, interesting wine list and even a great signature "doggie bag." The food isn't always up to the same level as these details, but the restaurant is still in its learning curve.

Seafood places aren't limited to the Severn, where sailing reigns. The jazzy YellowfinRestaurant (2840 Solomons Island Rd., Edgewater, 410-573-1333, www.yellowfinrestaurant.com) sits high on a bank overlooking the South River, home to the area's powerboats. And a little farther afield are Pirate's Cove Restaurant & Marina (4817 Riverside Dr., Galesville, 410-867-2300, www.piratescovemd.com) and the Topside Inn (1004 Galesville Rd., Galesville, 410-867-1321). Don't forget to try the fried chicken at the Topside.

Italian

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.

Asian

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.


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