When Frank Toth retired from the Navy at Patuxent River in 1974, he bought an Adirondack-style lodge and restaurant built in 1934 in an area fondly remembered in the area as the "Summer White House."
Piney Point was a vacation spot from 1820 to 1910 for presidents such as James Madison and Abraham Lincoln. It also boasts the oldest of the four remaining lighthouses on the Potomac (nicknamed "Lighthouse of Presidents"), and it is home to the Oakwood Lodge.
For 25 years, Frank and Jean Toth have offered waterfront dining in St. Mary's County. They've spent a lot of energy building the business, raising their family and keeping up with the constant demands of a structure so exposed to the elements. The 90-foot pier has been rebuilt twice and shored up on another occasion, after the Potomac River froze over. The pier is important to the business because diners can dock their boats or seaplanes while they're at the lodge. Two such aircraft were there on a recent evening.
The Toths wanted to keep the restaurant a family affair, so with an eye toward retirement, they're now in business with Frank Jr. and his wife, Rhonda. "My father taught me everything I know about cooking," says the son, known as Frankie.
Don't be put off by the somewhat rustic approach to this sleepy little place. If your evening goes as ours did, you're in for a treat.
The original dining room has a formal feel, with Queen Anne-style chairs, tables with burgundy tablecloths and a wood-burning stove that is the lodge's only source of heat in the winter. You can just picture the scene on nights with the good conversations that have taken place in this warm room, and maybe even imagine the night former president Harry S. Truman was a guest at the lodge.
The lodge's large addition is outfitted with casual white furniture and blue tablecloths with white overlays. Diners can watch the bartender make drinks as boats and the occasional commercial tanker pass. If you like being outside, you can dine on the screened-in porch overlooking the river, and stroll down to the dock while waiting for dinner to arrive. Don't go if you're in a hurry; save Oakwood for an evening you can have a leisurely dinner.
Frankie Toth is planning some needed refurbishing. And he wants to bring steamed crabs to the lodge for the first time. A visitor to Oakwood might soon find the addition taking on more of a crab-shack atmosphere, with hardwood floors, oak tabletops, steamed crabs and fried fish.
Frankie and Rhonda Toth plan to keep most of the old favorites, like their signature Black Diamond Steak.
The seafood we tried was excellent. We ordered an appetizer special of steamed Maine mussels and clams in an amazing garlic, white wine and butter broth ($7.95), and we tried another seafood appetizer for two of crab balls, crab Imperial, stuffed portabello mushroom and steamed shrimp ($12.95). We chose the Black Diamond Steak ($14.95) and soft shell crabs ($16.95) as our entrees, and though the steak was tender, tasty and well prepared, we preferred the seafood. The lightly fried soft shells were exquisite. Both entrees were good values, as they were served with fresh corn on the cob from "down the road," choice of potato and a delightful fresh salad.
Rockfish ($16.95) is a lodge specialty, as is the seafood pasta ($19.95). We had the seafood pasta on another occasion, and it is wonderful--linguine al dente topped with succulent shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams, crab meat, garlic and a splash of white wine.
Save room for dessert. Rhonda Toth, the new family baker, makes pies and cheesecakes daily. She sticks with Jean's favorite old family recipes, and though we've never tasted Jean's, it's hard to believe Rhonda's cheesecake can be topped.
Oakwood Lodge is an out-of-the way spot, but the trip to Piney Point can take you to a bygone era.
* Address: Oakwood Lodge Road, off Lighthouse Road, Piney Point. 301-994-2377.
* Hours: Monday, 5-9 p.m.; closed Tuesday; Wednesday and Thursday, 5-9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5-10 p.m.; Saturday lunch, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sunday breakfast, 9 a.m.-2 p.m., dinner until 9 p.m. Reservations suggested.
* Prices: Entrees, $14.95-$30
Children's menu, $1.99-$6.95, or order from adult menu (half price, half portion).
* Best-kept secret: The lodge has three simple, basic rooms for rent, but call ahead. "It's not like a hotel, where we rent out rooms every day," Rhonda Toth says. "When someone wants a room, I say, 'Okay, let me go make one up for you.' "
* Web site: http://www.theoakwoodlodge.com.
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CAPTION: Judi Chester, of Pennsylvania, and Horatio Vintila, of Missouri, enjoy the atmosphere at Oakwood Lodge, a waterfront restaurant in Piney Point.
CAPTION: Chef Frank Toth Jr., right, prepares seafood dishes at Oakwood Lodge, such as the Mariner's Delight, above, a tempting platter that includes five kinds of seafood.