See Annapolis through the eyes of a newcomer.
The first rule of travel to a foreign place is to do as the locals do. Nobody knows a given location better than its inhabitants, as is the case with the historic city of Annapolis. Locals will quickly volunteer the best museums, shops, and landmarks to visit. While I concede that these establishments are incredibly valuable to Annapolis, I want to learn Annapolis through food. And so, as a new resident of the city, I searched out popular locally-owned spots, talked to locals, and fully accepted that I may gain a few pounds on this adventure.
It’s only natural to begin the day with a cafe drink, right? This is the thought I had in mind after parking at the harbor (which is a subject we’ll progress to later) downtown. I already mapped out City Dock Coffee–my first destination–but the throngs of people bustling about the harbor momentarily stunned me. Coupled with that, there were massive and beautiful boats everywhere. Wooden beams pushed into the open sky, white sails and rope decorated the structure, and swirled letters told of the vessel’s name. I passed by two young guys on the dock dressed in J.Crew clothes, one of whom told the other “I don’t care about the sails, I just want a really big engine!” Annapolis is the land of dreamers. It’s inspiring.
After wandering around for a bit on the brick streets filled with shoppers (choosing to ignore my iPhone directions and enjoy the blissful feeling of being momentarily lost), I found City Dock Coffee nestled behind an abandoned space dubbed “Market House.” (Someone should open a very cool business there. I’d visit.) I used to think the one Starbucks in the small Eastern Shore town I’m from was the coolest hang out spot until I stepped into City Dock. For one, the Starbucks was only accessible by car whereas City Dock welcomed foot traffic, foot traffic from the surrounding adorable boutiques and ice cream stores. (That fact proved problematic as I spent the duration of the morning shopping when I was supposed to do other things.) Additionally, City Dock is locally owned (and yes, I understand Starbucks was once locally owned too, but it’s just not the same). I have quickly learned that a business owned by locals attracts a whole different crowd than does a chain brand. The people in City Dock typed on their laptops, talked in groups, and looked as if they would stay for as long as needed to relax. Saturday mornings often lend a hand to relaxation, and because of such, I wanted something not so caffeinated as coffee. I settled on a chai latte with soy milk. Frothy and sweet with just the right tang of spice, the chai latte from City Dock immediately became a daily occurrence. (Okay, maybe I don’t get there everyday, but I crave it daily if that validates the statement.)
Since we’re on the subject of City Dock, I’ll say I ordered a Jamaican Iced Tea on a different day and its fresh sweetness blew me away. Really, grab one from City Dock on one of those summer days when the heat nearly punches you in the throat. You have an insider’s guarantee it will cool you down. Here’s the logistics: City Dock Coffee’s small chai latte with soy milk cost about $4. The iced tea was a bit cheaper.
Oddly enough, talking about coffee drinks makes me hungry. Let’s hop to it with details about my next excursion in the big city: Breeze in the Loews Hotel. Where I’m from, there’s one or two international chain hotels that only serve continental breakfast, and by that I mean store bought muffins and lukewarm orange juice. Loews is on an elevated level in terms of the hotel industry and their food is outrageously divine and surprisingly foodie.
I should give a quick definition of foodie here. Classified in the urban dictionary, “foodie” can be an adjective or noun. If a person is a foodie, he or she has a decent amount of culinary knowledge and seeks out dishes that are unconventional and unique. Often times, foodies gravitate toward dishes with fresh and/or local ingredients. A restaurant can be foodie if it holds the ideologies of foodies–unusual, interesting, and celebratory of ingredients. So no, a Caesar salad is not foodie. However, a Caesar salad that features charred romaine lettuce left on the stalk with shaved parmesan cheese, cracked pepper, and homemade croutons like the one at Red Red Wine Bar is most definitely foodie. By the way, check that place out and bring an appetite for foodie food and wine. It’s phenomenal.
I apologize for the digression, but it was necessary! I went to the Loews for a business lunch (you didn’t think I just eat piles of food and explore the city, did you?). My boss and I shared all the dishes (this is how you measure a great authority figure, at least to me): fried green tomatoes with capers and crab, and butternut squash ravioli with broccoli rabe in alfredo sauce. That’s a mouthful to say and bite. Under normal circumstances, I would not order the fried green tomatoes on account of my aversion to tomatoes unless they are in salsa or ketchup form. However, my boss suggested them and I wanted to appear willing, so we ordered them. Let me tell you, I ate most of them. I hope she didn’t mind.
Because the tomatoes were pulled off the vine before they fully developed, they didn’t have the traditional tomato punch. Instead, the tomatoes were mostly juicy. When battered and fried till crunchy, the tomatoes took on a completely new flavor profile. The dish solidified itself foodie thanks to the fried capers, succulent crab, and spicy cream sauce strewn across the top. It was ridiculously good and forever altered the way I think of tomatoes.
The next dish at Loews was equally delicious, but slightly more healthy. Pureed butternut squash was stuffed into ravioli noodles and cooked to create pillows of savory goodness. Yes, pasta is almost always fabulous, but this dish was just heavenly. The alfredo sauce also contributed to the yumminess, especially when smothered in the broccoli rabe. Italian foodies can rejoice because the Loews offers this dish.
I mentioned Red Red Wine Bar a few paragraphs above, but I’m not satisfied with the amount of text I gave the locally owned establishment. Join me as I discuss the very foodie, very delicious, and mostly nutritious quinoa cakes with goat cheese, basil, and citrus zest! Essentially I just supplied all you need to know about these little cake wonders, but I will explicate further for those with less imaginative minds. Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah), is a grain-like food that resembles teeny tiny balls. Because it’s basically a grain, it’s nutritious. Red Red Wine Bar cooked the quinoa (like how you would cook rice) and make them into patties with goat cheese, basil shreds, and citrus zest. Obviously there are more ingredients involved but these outshined the rest. The golden patties were crunchy from the cooking process yet soft because of the cheese. The savory quinoa and cheese complemented the sweet basil and the tangy zest perfectly. Nutrition and richness never looked so good together.
I should add that the rock and roll/New Orleans decor in Red Red Wine Bar only enhances the experience. The Main Street biz also features a wine tap, which I was unaware is possible. If it hadn’t been 11 a.m. when I went there, I would have ordered from the wine tap and supplied the details here. Never fear–I’ll surely go again and report back.
More recently, I tested out Lemongrass Too, another fantastic restaurant owned by locals. I went to the location off Housely Road, which is Lemongrass’ second location to the one downtown. Thai food is the genre, tastiness is the point. Once again on a business lunch, my boss and I practically inhaled the bite sized food we ordered. To start, we shared a hefty platter of crispy green beans embedded in a spicy, gingery sauce. The green beans were the fresh type you’d find at a local farmers market–bulbous with the stem attached. The slight crunch of the batter paralleled the fresh crunch of the beans. Dipped in the sauce or on their own, the beans were incredible.
But no, we didn’t stop at green beans–we wanted more crunch! Hence, the server brought us crispy tofu and fried calamari. Both sauces were paired with slivered carrots, lettuce, and chili sauce. The calamari were chewy but would not induce TMJ. The otherwise squishy tofu seemingly poofed and left pockets of air in the fried cubes. Tofu dishes I had prior to the crispy tofu at Lemongrass Too may as well be obsolete. I replaced old tofu favorites with the Lemongrass dish, much like email replaced telegrams, thank God. Anyway, it’s important you know the crispy tofu at Lemongrass Too is scrumptious, with or without the tacky simile.
So, through quite a bunch of adjectives and descriptions of setting, you now know the food of Annapolis. However, this list of yumminess is by no means complete. Annapolis attracts diverse culinary genres, bushels of seafood dishes, and many delicious creations yet to catch the public eye and tongue. It’s our job to explore both Mom and Pop diners and the oversized, swanky restaurants. In fact, these businesses–large and small–depend on ravenous customers to maintain and thrive. Decide to be hungry and adventurous with your palette. Allow Annapolis food and drink to wow you.