One of the best things about living in Southern Maryland is the easy sense of discovery one can get the first time one heads down a local road and happens upon another beautiful spot on the water. Clarke's Landing Road in Hollywood is one of those roads and Clarke's Landing Restaurant is located at one of those spots.
What a pretty place! Framed by Cuckold Creek to the north and Mill Creek on the south, Clarke's Landing has a long view of the Patuxent River that looks toward the Solomons bridge. In the 1920s, Charles Clarke built a bar and marina out over the water. The building burned down in a spectacular fire in 1971. The current cinder block building was built near the original site.
In March 1998, an up and coming chef, Rusty Shriver, now 24, and his brother, Nick, now 23, took over this seafood house. They say they're living their dream.
The place has a warm, open feel. There's a huge bar area, a dining room and a newly enclosed porch. In warm weather, patrons can sit, eat and enjoy the view from the patio area.
When the boys were Calvert County high school athletes, lineman Rusty used to block for running back Nick on the football field. Nick Shriver laughs now at how the tables have turned in his role as manager and bartender of the restaurant. He now blocks for Rusty the chef. A good chef probably gets as much glory as a good running back.
Despite his youth, the homegrown chef has plenty of experience in regional cuisine, having worked at the now-closed Adam's Rib in Chesapeake Beach, Stoney's at Broomes Island and Tony's RiverHouse in Benedict. He credits his father's penchant for gourmet cooking as his reason for wanting to become a chef in the first place.
"We didn't have a normal kind of eating family when I was growing up," he said, recalling dishes cooked by his father, Jack Shriver. "We didn't have things like meatloaf and mashed potatoes all the time--though we did have them. My dad wanted things like Japanese and Chinese dishes, so he'd get the stuff and start cooking."
However he came to the kitchen, Rusty Shriver is well on his way as a chef. He has two blue ribbons on the wall from the 1999 "Taste of Southern Maryland" competition at Harrington Harbor. His passion for cooking is palpable.
Both Tony's and Stoney's have wonderful crab cakes, and we recognized the same touch in Rusty Shriver's version of teriyaki salmon cakes glazed with honey, brown sugar and cilantro. He's obviously learned the trick to making good fish cakes. On a visit last month, he featured rockfish cakes as a special and said they were so popular he'll do it again.
For starters, try the excellent Waterman's Oyster Stew ($5.95 a bowl). It was rich and creamy and not thickened with potatoes or flour. We also tried his snappy and delicious Maryland Crab Soup ($5.95 a bowl), well spiced and thicker than some we've seen. You also have to try the smoked bluefish ($8.95), some of the best smoked fish anywhere. Another excellent appetizer is sauteed mussels ($7.95), simmered in butter with basil and oregano and served with French garlic bread.
There are usually at least a couple of specials to complement the regular menu. In addition to steaks, herb-marinated chicken and, of course, several seafood dishes, Rusty prepares a Crab Muffin ($11.95), an English muffin topped with crab and jalapeno jack cheese and then broiled; and pasta with shrimp and scallops in Alfredo sauce topped with bacon and scallions ($19.95). He also does grilled shrimp kabobs smothered in a spicy chipotle butter sauce.
Most of the desserts are not made on the premises, but try one that is--an awesome Midwestern-style strawberry shortcake, a sweetened cake-like biscuit with strawberries and whipped cream.
Rusty Shriver's future as a chef seems very promising. We're glad that he's a local and that we all get to enjoy his evolution. This is a great time of the year to sample his craft. The place gets jumping when folks get back on the water.
* Address: 24580 Clarke's Landing Lane, Hollywood. 301-373-8468.
* Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed on Mondays from Labor Day to Memorial Day.
* Prices: Appetizers and soups, $3.95 to $8.95. Entrees, $10.95 to $23.95. Most major credit cards accepted.
* Best-kept secret: Older students at nearby William W. Winpisinger Education and Technical Center use bicycles for local transportation. Sometimes 15 strong, they regularly bike to Clarke's Landing for happy hour, returning to school for 6 p.m. dinner.
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CAPTION: Johnny Alvey, left, of Mechanicsville, and Randy Lawson, of Lexington Park, give their orders to waitress Linda Bostick at Clarke's Landing.
CAPTION: Clarke's Landing chef and co-owner Rusty Shriver sautes a pan of mussels during a lunch rush.
CAPTION: Chef Rusty Shriver's signature dish of pasta shrimp and scallop Alfredo, above, is priced at $19.95. Large steamed shrimp, top, go for $22.95.