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Driving to Dinner
Five Restaurants Worth Crossing Boundaries For

By Eve Zibart
The Washington Post
Sunday, September 21, 1997; Page E06
   


There are few things more satisfying than a pleasant drive, a little sightseeing and souveniring and a fine meal at the end of it. Here are five restaurants in Maryland and five in Virginia for which the mileage is just the appetizer, plus a few fringe attractions in some cases. Keep in mind that reservations are a good idea, particularly on weekends; even if you find yourself on the road by impulse, try to drop by or call the restaurant a few hours in advance of dinnertime. (Note that the prices below do not include drinks or wine.) Incidentally, most but not all of these also have overnight accommodations available.

Virginia

C&O Restaurant/The Metropolitain, Charlottesville. This is actually a two-for-one entry, like a good horse race: Since these two Charlottesville favorites are only few blocks apart, you can compare menus (or crowds, or ambiance). The C&O is a culinary geode, a onetime boardinghouse down by the railroad with classic French methode cuisine offset by frankly fashionable fun stuff, served bistro-style downstairs and more formally upstairs (but prices are the same, $20 or a bit more per head). The Metropolitain is a somewhat fancier but relaxed (no dress code) nouveau-American spot that specializes in updated Virginia recipes: bison with corn, grits and barbecue sauce, pecan-crusted pork chops with cider sauce and a vegetarian "Wellington" with portobellos instead of tenderloin, adding up to $25 or $30 a person. As to landmarks, if you've never seen Jefferson's almost humanly eloquent Monticello or his bucolic University, they are musts.

C&O Restaurant, 515 E. Water St., Charlottesville, 804-971-7044.

Metropolitain, 214 W. Water St., Charlottesville, 804-977-1043.

The Frog and the Redneck, Richmond. Once you get the hang of the entree names ("redneck risotto" means grits, and "redneck lobster" is monkfish), you can settle in to enjoy Jimmy Sneed's mix of classic techniques and regional ingredients. And leave your stuffed shirt at home. The neighborhood the restaurant is in, called Shockhoe Slip, is a renovated strip of old brick and timbered warehouses that have been turned into shops, nightspots and restaurants that make for fun wandering; and if you like a preprandial stroll past old buildings, head for Monument Avenue with its cavalcade of Confederate statues. The $45-a-person chef's choice dinner is a little more than you'd pay a la carte, but then it's five courses.

The Frog and the Redneck, 1423 E. Cary St., Richmond, 804-648-3764.

The Inn at Little Washington, Washington, Va. If you have any interest in fine dining at all, you've heard about Patrick O'Connell's palatial (and the pun is fully deserved) establishment. The good news is the same as the bad news: It's all true. Dinner is fixed price, ranging from $85 to $105, and if you aren't willing to drop upwards of $300 -- you can't possibly overlook the fine wine cellar, not to mention the tip -- you might as well not try to get the essential reservation. But if you want a really memorable meal, and perhaps a glass of champagne beforehand in the half-wild garden, this is absolutely the place. There are only a few antique shops around town (look for the old lighting store), but it makes for pleasant strolling.

Inn at Little Washington, Middle and Main streets, Washington, Va., 540-675-3800.

L'Auberge Provencale, White Post. You're less likely to have heard of Alain Borel unless you're a more serious food-mag groupie; but this fourth-generation chef from Avignon not only cooks as if he's back home, he's made this remarkably pretty country inn look like it as well, right up to the herbs and vegetables fresh from the yard and the cattle in the fields next door. This is cooking as fully satisfying as O'Connell's, but in an earthier style, and considering the price, $58 a person, more bang for the relative buck. If you wanted to make a weekend of it, you could spend Friday night here, have Borel's equally astonishing breakfast and then take the scenic route through antique world to Little Washington on Saturday and stay the night there. On Sunday morning, beg the diet god for forgiveness.

L'Auberge Provencale, Route 340, White Post, 540-837-1375.

The Trellis, Williamsburg. For all its famous authenticity, Williamsburg has at least one bit of modern Americana to boast about: Marcel Desaulniers's summer-y restaurant and first-rate seasonal menus, traditionally inspired and full of regional ingredients -- pan-fried catfish with baby spinach and slab bacon, grilled duck with peaches and pecans, softshells and quail -- but never hide-bound. And dinner is something of a bargain: $22 for three full courses or something similar for a la carte. Vegan and vegetarian platters are an extra attraction here. And anything with the word "chocolate" in it is worth the trip in itself: Desaulniers literally wrote the book, a cookbook called "Death by Chocolate." Incidentally, touring Colonial Williamsburg is fun, but a touch theme-parkish: Don't overlook the campus of William and Mary, where Jefferson himself went to school; and be sure to check into the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center.

The Trellis, 403 Duke of Gloucester St., Williamsburg, 757-229- 8610.

Maryland

Antrim 1844, Taneytown. This is an ideal getaway for those whose fantasies run to the old English/Irish country estate type, with its fireplaces, formal garden and weekend-party amenities, including a swimming pool (with gazebo), target golf green, tennis court, croquet court, lawn bowling green and horseshoe pit. The food is sort of like that, too: hearty and full-flavored, evoking days on horseback and night with Tom Jones at the groaning board (tenderloin stuffed with Stilton in port sauce, stewed oysters with leeks, antelope with blueberries, napoleon of swordfish with eggplant). Most of the time, dinner -- a five-course $55 prix fixe -- is in the old smokehouse, with its brick floors and huge fireplaces, a surefire romantic sell, but then in the summer, you can dine on the veranda overlooking the garden . . .

Antrim 1844, 30 Trevanion Rd., Taneytown, 1-800-858-1844 or 410-756-6812.

Imperial Hotel, Chestertown. Even if it weren't true that the Imperial Hotel by itself would lure you across the state, combined with the charms of river-wise Chestertown, it sure would. This is supra-traditional Eastern Shore food: fresh regional ingredients with raised profiles and treatments sophisticated, or at least trendy enough, to please the increasing number of urbanites retiring (read: escaping) to the riverside life. And for $25 or so a person, they can retire pretty darn well. The salads alone have won food-mag raves (jumbo crab with vegetables and lemon-poppy dressing), and in nice weather, you can feel even lighter by dining in the garden. The whole town is a scenic route, so wear comfy shoes.

Imperial Hotel, 208 High St., Chestertown, 410-778-5000.

Old Angler's Inn, Potomac. This would be a romantic choice for anyone, but as fine as the game and seafood here are, chef Jeffrey Tomchek's astonishing ad-lib vegetarian banquets -- meals that prove rich flavor need not be heavy either in fact or effect -- almost blow them away, particularly in warm weather, when you can sit on the flagstone patio ($55 for five to seven courses, about a third above a la carte prices). Admittedly, this is a Washington suburb, but it doesn't look it. Besides, when it comes to nearby attractions, this can't be beat; outdoorsy types have the C&O Canal at their feet, and art lovers have all the glories of museum-rich Washington.

Old Angler's Inn, 10801 MacArthur Blvd., Potomac, 301-299-9097.

Savannah, Baltimore. The Admiral Fell Inn in Baltimore has always had the look, but until a couple of years ago, it didn't really have a restaurant as nice as the accommodations. Now, thanks to this innovative new-Southern restaurant and its intelligent and fairly priced wine list, you can drink in the beer-and-crabs atmosphere of Fells Point and still dine in style for about $50 a pair. (Chef Cindy Wolf put D.C. Georgia Brown's on the restaurant map, and has re-created several of her signature dishes, including the heads-on shrimp with andouille and tasso over grits, benne seed-crusted chicken and cornbread/country ham stuffed quail with bourbon sauce.) As to attractions, the Baltimore waterfront is packed with 'em: Inner Harbor, Camden Yards, the Aquarium . . . and the Fells Point street life alone is interesting, even when "Homicide" isn't filming.

Savannah, 888 S. Broadway, Baltimore, 410-522-2195.

Stone Manor, Middletown. If you're the type who prefers to put yourself in the chef's hands, you'll be happy with Stone Manor's four- and five-course dinners (usually $45 and $55), and the staff will also select wines by the glass for each course if you like. It's hard to characterize this eclectic menu, which changes constantly, except to say that it combines regional dishes with a sense of humor. Cross quiche and traditional crab cakes and what do you get? A stunning crab "cheesecake" with grizzled leeks. Tired of soggy chicken pot pie? Restyle it into chicken-stuffed potato ravioli. Hang on for game season if you can. This is farmland, lovely for strolling, but the inn isn't all that far from Frederick, so you can antique till you shriek or take in a Keys game in their season.

Stone Manor, 5820 Carroll Boyer Rd., Middletown, 301-473-5454.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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