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Eats of Easton
Little Maryland Town Gains a Big Restaurant Rep

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Long known to travelers mostly as a gateway to the tony Eastern Shore enclave of St. Michaels, Easton (population 14,000) has quietly forged a place high on the list of mid-Atlantic foodie destinations. An increasingly adventurous dining clientele in Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia, coupled with a growth in owners of second homes in the area, is driving a mini-boom in fine restaurants.

The combination of pedigreed dining haunts and promising new kitchens gives Easton a culinary reputation that is broad and deep. Gourmands can enjoy squab with a foie gras coulis one night and head down the block the next for green Thai bouillabaisse, roasted kangaroo and, after a wine-bar break, a five-course chocolate dessert a few doors away. Those who want to round out a food-centric weekend can get a bellyful of fine barbecue (and find some of the town's hottest chefs gnawing a rib at the next table). Base yourself at one of the warmly welcoming bed-and-breakfasts in the town center, and you can easily stroll to most of the recommended eateries.

Between meals, there are distractions enough to fill a weekend. The Easton-based Avalon Theatre, which bills itself as the showplace of the Eastern Shore, stages a strong mix of plays and musical acts. An impressive cluster of visual arts venues, led by the Academy Art Museum, is set in the friendly, walkable downtown. Oh, and then there's that St. Michaels place.

Below are a few of the many options available to fill a food-focused weekend in Easton. The dress code in most cases is smart casual. Take note of hours of operation; many places are closed one or two days a week.

Info: Talbot County Office of Tourism, 410-770-8000, http://www.tourtalbot.org/.

-- Gary Lee

* With its creative, palate-pleasing fare -- butter-basted flatiron steak, confit of artichoke risotto -- it's no wonder that the Inn at Easton has become a destination for gourmands. Regular patrons think little of making the 90-minute drive from downtown Washington to savor chef Andrew Evans's offerings. From the seared foie gras appetizer to the sticky fig and ginger pudding, dinner is an evening-long event. (And the seven highly stylized guest rooms make an overnight stay hard to resist. Rates start at $200.) Trained partly in Queensland, Australia, Evans blends kangaroo tenderloin, an impressive range of shirazes and other items from down under on the menu. Dinner for two with wine: $150.

28 S. Harrison St., 410-822-4910,http://www.theinnateaston.com; dinner only Wednesday to Sunday.

* If ever a diner could make out just fine on bread alone, it would be at Out of the Fire. The focaccias and flatbreads, baked daily in a stone hearth oven, are outstanding. But why stop at bread and miss out on such fine dishes as mussels cooked in a lovely tomato-caper broth and grilled shrimp with cheddar onion grits? Excellent service and a warm ambiance make this a place where you can linger for hours. The kitchen puts an accent on organic, healthy ingredients. Even those dining elsewhere should make time to pop into the wine bar. Great pinot noirs, merlots, Rieslings and other varietals from small vineyards are on the extensive by-the-glass list. Dinner for two: $100.

22 Goldsborough St., 410-770-4777,http://www.outofthefire.com; lunch Monday to Friday, dinner Monday to Saturday, brunch Sunday.

* Open only a few months, the Tidewater Inn's Restaurant Local already has attracted a following among fans of contemporary American cuisine. The offerings from the sea -- barbecued shrimp, blue crab "martini" (an appetizer in a cocktail glass), Atlantic diver scallops -- all are stylized and tasty. Such simpler fare as the Angus burger and grilled portobello mushroom makes for a pleasing lunch. The dining room's design is stylish but perhaps a little on the uber side of modern for this unassuming town. But its Decanter Wine Room, a small glassed-in space, would be fun for an intimate dinner party. For those who want to nibble over a cocktail or two, the bar has big-city pizazz. Lunch for two: $65. Dinner: $100.

101 E. Dover St., 410-819-8088,http://www.tidewaterinn.com; lunch Monday, Thursday and Friday, dinner Thursday to Monday, brunch Saturday and Sunday.

* For a finely prepared porterhouse steak, a platter of Dover sole or a gargantuan Maine lobster served without unnecessary fanfare, search no further than the Inn at 202 Dover. Opened a few weeks ago in a posh Victorian inn, this restaurant promises nothing less than high-quality steaks, pork chops and seafood. And it delivers. In the calm, elegantly furnished setting, a mature crowd would probably be more at home than students on spring break. Dinner for two with wine: $130.

202 E. Dover St., 866-450-7600,http://www.innat202dover.com; dinner only Thursday to Monday.

* Scossa Restaurant & Lounge has staked out a position as the local purveyor of northern Italian fare, along with some continental options. (The scallops looked heavenly.) The result is a menu rich in pastas with soothing sauces, hearty antipastos and creamy main dishes like seafood risotto. The decor, accented by oversize windows and banquettes covered in faux ostrich skin, gives the feel of a posh urban lounge. Head chef and co-owner Giancarlo Tondin knows northern Italian cooking intimately -- he hails from those parts -- and it shows. A dinner here (bresaola with shaved Parmesan, a lobster and ricotta fagottino and gelato, for example) rarely falls off-target. Dinner for two with wine: $150.

8 N. Washington St., 410-822-2202,http://www.scossarestaurant.com; lunch and dinner Tuesday to Sunday.

* The original 1928 soda fountain and marble counter in the back of Hill's Drug Store make it a popular breakfast haunt among locals. The fare is standard -- bacon and eggs, omelets, coffee, cereal -- but hearty and well done. The setting takes you back in time, and so do the prices: Two heaping plates of eggs with toast and coffee go for $12.

30 E. Dover St., 410-822-9751; breakfast and lunch Monday to Saturday.

* Smoky King probably will never grace the pages of Gourmet, but this plain-spoken barbecue joint on a busy main drag must have something going for it. On their days off, local chefs and kitchen workers gather here over platters of pork, beef and chicken slathered in sauce. The 'cue sandwiches are particularly mouthwatering. From the long list of sides, the slaw and potato salad are standouts. Lunch for two with soft drinks: $15.

8221 Ocean Gateway (Route 50), 410-822-6608; lunch and dinner Monday to Saturday.

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