10 Places to Eat That You Should Know About

The Iron Bridge Wine Company in Columbia offers small plates and a wine bar, but it also is a wine store.
The Iron Bridge Wine Company in Columbia offers small plates and a wine bar, but it also is a wine store. (By James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)
By Nancy Lewis
Thursday, April 26, 2007

Jimmy Cantler's Riverside Inn

Nothing says summer like an afternoon picking Maryland blue crabs on Cantler's patio overlooking Mill Creek. If you own a boat, you can arrive by water, but the journey by car from downtown Annapolis is just a few minutes and a world away. The pace here is dictated by how long it takes to steam the crabs in giant kettles and how long it takes one to pick through the shells for the succulent meat. You can't be in a hurry for either. Cantler's is open year-round and offers a full seafood menu for those who don't want to get down and dirty crab-picking (there is a big wash basin out back). But then you'd miss the point for going to Cantler's in the first place. 458 Forest Beach Rd., Annapolis, 410-757-1311. http://www.cantlers.com.

Iron Bridge Wine Company

Wine bars and small plates are all the trend. The Iron Bridge Wine Company is all that, but more, because it is an actual wine store. The bins of wine from around the world that fill the walls aren't decoration; they are merchandise. It's been standing room only since Rob and Steve Wecker opened Iron Bridge four years ago -- they don't take reservations -- even after adding a dining room that features a long communal table. The menu changes often, but the dishes are always sophisticated cooking and an attractive presentation. Choose any bottle of wine in stock and drink it in the restaurant for the retail price plus a $10 corkage fee, or choose from the dozens of wines available by the glass. The servers are as knowledgeable about the wines as about the food, and if they can't answer your questions, they'll send over someone who can. 10435 State Route 108, Columbia, 410-997-3456, http://www.ironbridgewines.com.

Elkridge Furnace Inn

It's a surprise when you come upon this country inn, even when you are looking for it. The surrounding area is light industrial and then suddenly it's there, a stunning brick structure that has served as a tavern since 1744. The main dining rooms are cozy elegant with fireplaces and moldings that include carvings of dogwood blossoms. You may be able to glimpse the Patapsco River from one of the upper floors. The food can be as elegant as the surroundings, and there is a new menu of small plates in the McCubbins Tavern dining lounge, an area that doesn't require reservations. The historic property is also unusual because it is accessible to people with disabilities. You probably wouldn't stumble across the inn on a country drive, so it's worth seeking out. 5745 Furnace Ave., Elkridge, 410-379-9336. http://www.elkridgefurnaceinn.com.

Fulton and Maple Lawn

Maple Lawn, a huge new residential and commercial development in southern Howard County, has brought wonderful new dining options to a long-underserved area. The main shopping and office center is still under construction, but it already houses two upscale restaurants, Trapeze and oZ. Chophouse. A third, Ranazul, a tapas and wine bistro, is scheduled to open this summer. Trapeze (8188 Maple Lawn Blvd., Maple Lawn, at the Fulton/Laurel exit of Route 29, 301-498-4411, http://www.trapezeonline.net), the first to open, is a New American restaurant in a striking contemporary setting. The bar is the place to be; its loftlike atmosphere is perfect for the wide selection of appetizers and sandwiches, which are among the strong points of the menu.

At oZ. Chophouse (pronounced oh-zee, as in the abbreviation for ounce), the setting is more intimate, and the menu is chophouse traditional (8191 Maple Lawn Blvd., Suite A, Fulton, 301-490-4003, http://www.ozchophouse.com). One reason for the name: Steaks may be ordered by the ounce. Both Trapeze and oZ. are new outposts for Baltimore dining companies.

Just one exit away, in a small strip mall, is the Smokey Hollow BBQ Co. (7500 Montpelier Rd., North Laurel, 301-617-4227, http://www.smokeyhollowbbq.com), a culinary enterprise by a network television cameraman and his political operative wife. I like the pulled pork best -- order it sloppy with perfect sweet and tangy coleslaw -- and don't forget the hush puppies and corn fritters.

Diego's

Severna Park can boast of the best California-style Mexican food in the area at a little carryout/restaurant on Governor Ritchie Highway, and it's all because of the Naval Academy. When Andre Testman Jr. came east to enter the academy, his mother, Laura Allen -- former owner of an award-winning salsa company in San Diego -- followed, along with other family members, and opened Diego's. The entire menu is made fresh daily. Diego's has all the favorites -- tacos served authentic Mexican-style on steamed white corn tortillas, burritos, quesadillas, tamales, chile rellenos, even fish tacos. The carnitas are dearest to my heart, simply because they are the best around. Topping off everything is the salsa bar, with mild to hot, tomato-based and tomatilla-based selections, along with hot pickled carrots, jalapeƱos and chopped cilantro. Don't skip the guacamole; it's buttery good, especially with the homemade chips. 497 Governor Ritchie Hwy., Severna Park, 410-431-5005, http://www.eatatdiegos.com.

West Street: Church Circle To Southgate Avenue

The revitalization of West Street, the historic entryway into Annapolis, shows that you no longer have to be near the waterfront to have a successful restaurant. The standouts include Rams Head Tavern & Fordham Brewing Company (33 West St., 410-268-4545, http:// http://www.ramsheadtavern.com), with a menu that includes burgers, shepherd's pie, the obligatory (for Annapolis) crab cakes, its own brews and a stage that draws national musicians -- and the new Kyma (69 West St., 410-268-0003, http://www.kyma restaurant.com), with its menu of Spanish and Greek small plates, known as tapas and meze, respectively, in a soothingly cool space with a hot vibe.

Four restaurateurs -- Gavin Buckley, Jody Danek, Kristin Lewis and Julie Williams -- are responsible for much of the West Street renaissance. They first opened Tsunami (51 West St., 410-990-9868) as a sushi bar, then expanded it to include a regular bar and dining room. The Asian-influenced cuisine is top-notch, as is the noise level at this popular destination. The foursome expanded westward, opening Lemongrass (167 West St., 410-280-0086, http://www.lemongrassannapolis.com), with a traditional Thai menu, and Metropolitan (169 West St., 410-268-7733), with a South Beach/Sydney feel, a stunning rooftop lounge and a menu that fuses Asian ingredients with European cooking techniques and vice versa.

Main Street

The culinary stars are up Main Street as you drive away from the docks. Aqua Terra (164 Main St., 410-263-1985, http://www.aquaterraofannapolis.com) features a New American menu with an Asian bent and the freshest local ingredients. The single storefront has expanded to next door, offering more of Aqua Terra to love. But beware, this is still a high-decibel place.

Osteria 177 (177 Main St., 410-267-7700, http://www.osteria177.com) is the new kid on the block, with a stunning traditional/contemporary decor (think chandeliers dripping with crystal and Milan-modern leather chairs) and a menu that features coastal Italian dishes like the ones you'd find in Italy. The manager and chef, who honed some of their skills at Glen Burnie's Trattoria Alberto, know what they are doing -- the Italian way, using the best ingredients and letting flavors speak for themselves without a lot of heavy sauces. Grilled branzino (Italian sea bass) is a stunner, perfectly plain with just a drizzle of lemon-infused olive oil. Piccolo Roma (200 Main St., 410-268-7898) offers a more traditional Italian approach, featuring specialties from the Italian capital.

You can't talk about Main Street and not include Chick and Ruth's Delly (165 Main St., 410-269-6737, http://www.chickandruths.com), an old-fashioned deli with seating so close together that you would be excused for mistaking your neighbor's plate for your own. Many of the sandwiches are named for the politicians (or their predecessors) who gather at the nearby state capitol. And up the street, Joss Cafe (195 Main St., 410-263-4688, http://www.josscafe-sushibar.com) is rather Spartan, but the sushi, sashimi and tempura are attraction enough.

Italian Market and Restaurant

A gurgling fountain (that would have pleased even the likes of Hilda Mae Snoops) is at the center of this restaurant and market near the Westfield Annapolis shopping mall. With an extensive menu of traditional favorites including pizza, sandwiches, pasta dishes and entrees, the restaurant is more of a cafeteria. But, oh, oh, the market! This is a sprawling place with a long deli counter containing countless sausages and cheeses, shelf after shelf of pastas and other foods imported from Italy, an incredible selection of Italian wines (the ones you see written up in Wine Spectator but usually can't find locally) and even the Italian firewater called grappa. 126 Defense Hwy., 410-224-1330, http://www.theitalianmarket.com.

Lewnes Steakhouse

Just across the bridge from Annapolis in Eastport is a homegrown steakhouse with the feel of a speak-easy and prime steaks second to none. The main dining room is up a narrow stairway and features booths that lend it a secretive air. The wine list is long and impressive and includes verticals (selections from many successive years) for more than 20 wines. You can spend as little as $35 for a bottle or as much as $1,000. The portions are large, the welcome is generous -- it's a combination that's hard to beat. 401 Fourth St., 410-263-1617, http://www.lewnes steakhouse.com.

Les Folies Brasserie

A good French meal is hard to find these days. Once, every fine restaurant was French. Today, the trend is more Mediterranean and Asian. But not here, at this French outpost on Riva Road in Parole. Step inside, and you feel as though you are in France, with lots of copper pots on the wall and suave-talking Frenchmen to care for you. There is no place better for raw oysters and clams (though that season is ending). The cooking covers most of the regions of France, including the seafood of Normandy and Brittany and the escargots of Burgundy. It's a great place to try bouillabaisse (fish stew) or foie gras with caramelized apple. 2552 Riva Rd., 410-573-0970, http://www.lesfoliesbrasserie.com.

If you have a favorite restaurant that you think deserves attention, please contact Nancy Lewis atlewisn@washpost.com.


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