This is a great time of the year to visit the Old Field Inn. Holiday decorations at the green-shuttered house on Prince Frederick's Main Street went up last weekend, and the place looks terrific.
The doors and halls are decked with spruce boughs threaded with tiny white lights and pinecones. It's a wonderful complement to the old leaded glass windows.
The house has an interesting history. John Parran Briscoe, then-chief Circuit Court judge, built it in the 1890s. In 1927 Old Field became home to Everard Briscoe, the first doctor in Calvert County to hold regular office hours. His widow, Betty, was one of Calvert's leading citizens and wrote a weekly column called "Know Your County" in the Calvert Independent from 1954 to 1981. She was also the founder of the Calvert County Garden Club and planted a number of trees on the property that are not indigenous to the state, most notably, a champion white pine.
Edward Wolchick runs the restaurant that makes its home in the old house. Wolchick has been in the business all his life--his grandfather is Tom O'Donnell of O'Donnell's in Bethesda, and his father is a Florida restaurateur. Wolchick further refined his skills at Cornell's Hotel Management School.
The Wolchicks bought the house from Betty Briscoe's estate in 1981 and after extensive restoration and renovation opened the restaurant on Election Day 1984 as President Reagan was reelected.
The restaurant comprises several rooms, each carefully decorated in Victorian style, and a cozy bar for sipping drinks by the fireplace. All of the guest areas are part of the original home. Only the kitchen is new.
The bar is in what was once the patients' examination room, and the shelves behind the bar held Dr. Briscoe's medicines and drugs. "Medicines and drugs are kept there still," quips Wolchick, referring to the restaurant's liquor supply.
They've squeezed an extra table or two into each room, so seating is tight, but the overall feel is that you're dining in the old home of a gracious friend. Perhaps you'll be seated in the room with the lighted corner cupboards. Or maybe you'll be in the intimate little room, once the doctor's waiting room, which now has Battenburg lace curtains and photos of the Briscoes. Wherever your table, take time to look around the room and savor the surroundings.
We happened in on Homecoming Night. It was great to see the tables full of teenagers in suits and long dresses. As we watched them kick off their evening, our waitress brought us a basket of small loaves of warm sourdough bread.
The menu is large and varied. Lots of appetizers and red meat, poultry and seafood entrees. We started with the Old Field Salad ($4.95), a mix of greens, mandarin oranges and shrimp topped with coconut and mango chutney dressing; creative and wonderful.
For entrees we chose a Frenched rack of lamb roasted and served with delicious raspberry demi-glace over wild rice ($20.95), chicken cordon bleu served with mushroom sauce ($14.95), and the prime rib special ($19.50), which is the dish that really surprised our taste buds because it was sage rubbed. The prime rib was cooked to our specifications and served with a baked potato, salad and vegetable. (Wednesday is Prime Rib Night during the winter, offered at a very special rate of $16.)
On another occasion we sampled the Veal Wellington, a scrumptious dish of veal scaloppini stuffed with cheese, pine nuts and raisins, wrapped in a puff pastry ($19.50). It was served with hunter sauce atop a bed of spinach fettuccini and was divine.
Old Field leans toward California and French wines and has a robust selection of both whites and reds. You can find a fine bottle for a special occasion in their cellar.
If you're looking for an elegant holiday meal in a wonderful Christmas setting, try the Old Field Inn.
Old Field Inn
* Address: 485 Main St., Prince Frederick. 410-535-1054, 301-855-1054, 1-800-698-1054
* Hours: 5-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 5-8 p.m. Sunday; flexible hours for party reservations; easy wheelchair access.
* Prices: Appetizers and soups, $3.75-$9.50; entrees, $14.95-$28.95 (lobster tail).
A real, leather-bound menu for children, $4.95-$11.95.
Most major credit cards accepted.
* Best-kept secret: "Wine Dinners." These are held on the second Friday of each month. The fixed-price, seven-course dinners with five wines are $58.95 per person with wine, $46.95 without wine. Chef Brendan Cahill creates the dinners, then wines are chosen to enhance the menu. For more information on wine dinners, visit the Web site at www.oldfieldinn.com.
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CAPTION: Waiter Robert Wilcox checks on Thomas and Krasi Lusby in one of the Old Field Inn's quaint dining rooms. The inn exudes Victorian charm.
CAPTION: Chef Brendan Cahill prepares rack of lamb in the kitchen, the only new part of the inn.
CAPTION: Jamaican prawns with curried orzo and fresh vegetables is one of the house specialties at the Old Field Inn in Prince Frederick.