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For a Fast Break, Breakfast on Kent Island

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Kent Island
By Christina Talcott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 22, 2008

One of the best parts of a weekend at the beach is getting away from it all.

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One of the worst parts is getting there, especially driving over the Bay Bridge when everyone else is, too.

Of course, we have it easy now: Until 1952, the only way to cross the Chesapeake Bay was by ferry. Nowadays, with the 4.35-mile-long bridge, the crossing is much easier, but only if you do it first thing Saturday morning, before everyone else leaves for the beach.

When you do reach the end of the span, at Kent Island, Md., you need a reward for your efforts. To me, that means one thing: a breakfast pit stop. Rather than swinging into the nearest Exxon for some stale coffee, try an oyster frittata or homemade quiche. All of the spots mentioned below are less than a mile off Route 301/50.

The Coffee Stop. If your idea of a breakfast stop involves coffee, only coffee, get off the highway right after the bridge, at Exit 37, and head south into the Kmart parking lot. Just to the left of the Kmart is a storefront discreetly marked JPJ. That's Just Plain Joe Coffee Co., a low-key little cafe named after its founder, Army veteran Joe White, who started the company with Army buddy Dan Wright and former Navy man Herb Cully. After drinking bad coffee for years in the Army, White decided to roast his own gourmet beans and sell them at a price that GIs could afford. (Most go for $7.99 a pound.) Every month, the company donates coffee to troops overseas and to veteran-owned businesses.

The irony of JPJ's proximity to a mega-mart is that the coffee shop is decidedly independent and community-minded. JPJ sells pastries, bagels and other items from Peace of Cake, a small bakery in nearby Stevensville. Most pastries are $1.89, and a sausage, egg and cheese biscuit is $2.59. The coffee drinks are made to order; I asked for just a smidge of sugar in my $3.25 frappe, and it came out just the way I like it. The only downside: Though the shop opens at 7 a.m. on weekdays, it doesn't open till 8 on weekends, leaving the earliest Saturday early birds out of luck.

The Gas Station Surprise. If you want to fill up where you fuel up, visit the BP on Route 8, just south of Route 50. Grab a coffee, some juice, maybe a slice of quiche Lorraine, perhaps a wedge of German chocolate cake for later.

At first, Kent Island Depot looks like your average mini-mart: plenty of candy and chips, maps and newspaper racks. Look carefully, though, and you'll see that it sells Just Plain Joe coffee, and a few aisles are full of wine and imported gourmet food (canned sardines from Portugal, Cadbury cookies from England). By the registers, instead of ancient hot dogs on rollers, display cases are packed with homemade pâté, crab cakes and fresh quiches, and shelves groan with all kinds of pastries, all of them the handiwork of Chef Ha Do Dao.

The Vietnamese-born Ha has been selling her creations (elaborately decorated slices of cake, jumbo cookies, gourmet salads) at Kent Island Depot since 1998. A slice of crab-leek quiche, about $5, was rich and cheesy, with a flaky crust. Sitting down at one of the Depot tables, you could almost forget you're at a gas station till you see the pumps outside.

The Yachters' Delight. Seafood mainstay Harris Crab House started serving breakfast in February, and it already has become popular with boaters. The second-floor dining room looks onto the water, where you can see the bridge and fishing boats crossing paths with luxury yachts.

The breakfast menu has standard fare, including omelets, waffles and cereal, but go straight to the seafood specials. The shrimp and crab hash has chunks of shellfish sauteed with potatoes, peppers, scallions and a touch of Old Bay, and it comes with an apple crisp, biscuit and eggs. On the omelet menu, the Crab Norfolk is packed with crab, ham and Swiss cheese and covered in a sherry sauce. A third seafood standout is for oyster lovers only: the Hangtown Fry Frittata. It's an omelet with fresh oysters, ham, mushrooms, peppers, scallions and cheddar and Parmesan cheese.

The three dishes, each $11, help whet your appetite for more seafood at the beach -- or at least give you the energy to keep driving in that direction.

The Comfort Food Detour. The landmark Holly's Motel and Restaurant has been parked just off the highway since 1955, and its coterie of friendly servers wears colorful polos while topping off your coffee or reciting the pie list. The place is an institution, with wood-paneled walls and comfy booths. The cheerful, throwback atmosphere is an ideal way to ease into a beach trip full of mini golf and pulpy paperbacks.

Though many flock to Holly's for its fried chicken, breakfast is a big deal as well. The Shoreman's Breakfast ($6.75), the most popular starter, comes with a pair each of eggs, buttermilk pancakes, strips of bacon and sausage links. There's no real maple syrup for your pancakes, and the home fries are a little mushy, but the coffee's hot and the price is right. Add a bottomless $1.75 cup of coffee, and we're talking about just over $10, tax and tip included, for a full belly to tide you over till the afternoon. Or as long as you can resist the french fries and caramel corn on the boardwalk.


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