Atmosphere: Nautical, light and airy with a view of the Narrows.
Prices: Sandwiches 95 cents to $3.95. A la carte $3.50 to $11.50. Dinners from $3.75 to $12.50.
Credit cards: BankAmericard/Visa, Mastercharge, American Express.
Reservations: None needed.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Special facilities: Parking lot. Accessible to the handicapped, high chairs available. Slips at the adjacent marina for boaters.
If you're a summer traveler to the Eastern Shore or the ocean beaches beyond, you may want to break your trip at the Fishermans Inn, an oldtimer's favorite summer and winter since 1930, on the east side of the Bay Bridge.
Having stopped there many times from childhood on, I recently convinced my husband that our trip to Tilghman Island would be better if we made at brief stop near the halfway mark.
We followed the signs with the fish on them to a right turn off routes 50 and 301, five miles from the east end of the Bay Bridge. Another right turn, and we easily spotted the complex of family-run enterprises bordering the water on the southeast side of Kent Narrows, just across from Kent Island. The compound has expanded from the early days to include a new restaurant, a gift shop, two retail fish markets and a marina.
As we unkinked our highway-weary muscles and emerged from our car to the large parking lot, I nearly stepped on a duck.
He squawked, I jumped, and the children raced to make friends with his compatriots, probably the world's best fed ducks, placidly enjoying their loosely fenced inlet. While the children traded nickels for handfuls of corn from an old peanut vending machine (strategically placed), I looked in at the gift shop, taking care not to disturb the duck nesting in the flower bed at the entrance.
The shop is the better variety of sea-shore gift shops, including carvings, paintings, prints and some antiques. It is housed in what was the original old frame house, made into a restaurant, and then retired from restaurant service when a new building was built seven years ago. It has been modernized and includes an interesting bookshop on wildlife subjects and Chesapeake Bay lore.
On to the restaurant itself, a large room with tables spaced sufficiently which seat 200. A second room containing a bar seats 100.The high ceiling and two windowed walls looking out toward the water give the main room a spacious, airy feeling. At two o'clock on a Saturday afternoon there was no problem with immediate seating, though we later learned there may be a wait during the peak dinner hours Friday and Saturday nights.
One of our smiling waitress' gave each of our two sons a plastic toy car. It was an opening gambit as reassuring to the parent as to the child - they really were prepared for us.
Selection from the menu, which included a sampling of seafood, local and imported, was easy for me, as it would be for many returning to the Chesapeake after a long winter. I decided to have my crabmeat in a salad. Instead of the salad dressing for the lump crabmeat heaped on a large quartered tomato, I asked for hot butter. The salad was worth the $4.95 and there were no shells in the crabmeat.
My husband, not an afficionado, ordered broiled rockfish a la carte at $5.50. He thoroughly enjoyed it along with the cole slaw accompaniment. He also said the homemade tartar sauce was on of the best he had tried.
The menu is the same from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. The only things not available every day are oyster dishes, which are served from Sept. 15 ot March 31.
The a la carte menu included broiled lobster tails at $11.50. Other items ranged from baked imperial crab at $6.25 to fried shrimp at $5.75, fried clams at $4.75 and half a fried chicken at $3.75.
Dinners ranged from $10.75 for the traditional beef and bird to $8.50 for the fishermans seafood platter with crabcake, fish filet, clams and shrimp. Rockfish, fried or broiled, soft crabs or Maryland crab cakes cost $8.50 each. The dinners included tomato juice or salad, rolls, two vegetables and a beverage.
Appetizers started with backfin crabmeat cocktail at $3.75 and included cherrystone clams on the half shell or oysters in season at $2.25, and red and white clam chowders or hard crab soup at $1. As a lover of Manhattan clam chowder, I found the Fishermans Inn version a bit overspiced. My husband and the boys had the New England chowder, and the boys didn't mind that there weren't many clams in it since they like the cream broth and don't particularly care for the chewy meat anyway.
The boys were both pleased with their selection of crab cake, french fries, applesauce and beverage from the children's menu for $3.50 each. The one bite I got of the crabcake was very good. They turned up only one piece of shell between them, as close to perfect as a crab can get. They could have had fried shrimp for the same price or chicken or fish for $2.50. From the sandwich menu, they could have chosen a crabcake on a soft roll for $2.75 or the cheeseburger for $1.25.
The boys had the homemade apple pie, 80 cents, for dessert, which wasn't like Grandma's, but they liked it. I passed, but my husband chose the creme de menthe parfait at $1.25 and pronounced it the perfect ending for a summer meal.
We paid our bill of $31 including tax and tip, and made one more stop before continuing our trip.
Crossing the parking lot, we visited the parking house, which supplies the restaurant and others in neighboring cities. It also retails fish and shellfish along with a few prepared dishes such as a crab imperial or stuffed shrimp for $1.25 or crab cakes for 95 cents.
We got a tour of the scrubbed down processing house and cold lockers, which destroyed the myth that a fish market has to be a smelly place.
We did not have time to visit a second retail fish market, which is also part of the compound, but in past years we have made special trips there to buy live crabs for picnics.
On the return from the shore, the turn for the restaurant is not as well marked. Make a left four miles from the junction of routes 301 and 50 and just past the Grasonville light, then a right turn and parallel to the highway until you see the restaurant. There is parking for boats at the marina on Kent Narrows.