Nibbles and Sips Around Town: ‘Cambridge, Maryland’

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Cambridge city mural.
Cambridge city mural.

In an area where watermen and their history have customarily been the prime subject of writerly interest, it was “Chesapeake” author James Michener who noted the architecture of Cambridge’s High Street, referring to its splendors as “one of the most beautiful streets in America”, which is precisely where we begin our exploration.

Richardson Maritime Museum
Richardson Maritime Museum

Start in the center of town at the Richardson Maritime Museum where a wealth of artifacts and expertly crafted replicas of historic ships are on display. Around the corner is the Ruark Boatworks, which affords a fascinating look at modern-day boat restoration and the building of traditional wooden bay craft.

Along the Choptank River.
Along the Choptank River.

Follow the cobblestone High Street toward the Choptank River and along the way admire stately 18th and 19th century homes, some meticulously restored, others awaiting a fresh coat of paint and some new shutters to be brought back to their original splendor.

Cambridge House Bed and Breakfast.
Cambridge House Bed and Breakfast.

A stone’s throw from the river is the Cambridge House Bed and Breakfast. Built in 1847 in the Queen Anne style of architecture, the manor boasts six large guest rooms with private baths.  Mine was on the second floor with a private porch overlooking a lily pond. The elegant home is furnished in the style of the period. Wicker chairs provide the perfect respite for reading or watching passersby from an expansive front porch. Jim and Marianne Benson and their adorable pooch Max (rescued by the couple while Jim was stationed in Cuba with the Foreign Service), are the gracious innkeepers. They will gladly share their stories (Max is available to play fetch) and describe the history of the former sea captain’s home.

Homes along Cambridge’s High Street.
Homes along Cambridge’s High Street.

A five-minute stroll towards the river will take you to the picturesque boat docks and self-guided tour of the replica Choptank Lighthouse, a six-sided screwpile lighthouse that contains a small museum focused on the nautical history of the area.

A mess of crabs ready for steaming at JM Clayton Seafood Company and the steam pots.
A mess of crabs ready for steaming at JM Clayton Seafood Company and the steam pots.

Turning back towards town I dropped in on Joe Clayton, great-great grandson of Captain Johnnie, founder of the JM Clayton Seafood Company where watermen have been bringing their crabs for picking and cleaning for five generations. Arrange a tour of the plant here. Behind the old single-story brick building is local artist Michael Rosato’s hyper-realistic mural. Painted on the side of an old caboose it depicts life along the river.

Mural Photo by Cambridge Artist Michael Rosato.
Mural Photo by Cambridge Artist Michael Rosato.

Continuing along High Street stop in at Christ Episcopal Church and Cemetery, the burial place of four Maryland governors. Though the church was built in 1883, the lovely parish dates back to 1692.

The High Spot Gastropub.
The High Spot Gastropub.

Cambridge has recently undergone an exciting restaurant renaissance offering both chef-helmed dining as well as casual fare. Try The High Spot Gastropub on Muir Street where Executive Chef Patrick Fanning lures guests with his elegant twist on classic American dishes using locally caught fish and farm-sourced ingredients. Head-over-heels creations are Zinfandel Braised Beef Cheeks & Blue Crab Hash, Conch Chowder with a splash of Gosling’s Rum, and Oyster Pot Pie.

Oyster Pot Pie at High Spot and Zinfandel Beef Cheeks & Blue Crab Hash.
Oyster Pot Pie at High Spot and Zinfandel Beef Cheeks & Blue Crab Hash.

Back on High Street we pass scores of recently restored historic buildings, one of which houses the Dorchester Center for the Arts, which has a Showcase on September 28th.

Pastry Chef Adam Powley of Elliot’s Baking Company shows off his brioche.
Pastry Chef Adam Powley of Elliot’s Baking Company shows off his brioche.

A few days before my arrival Elliott’s Baking Company opened in one of these beautifully restored turn of the century buildings. Owner and longtime resident, Bernie Elliott, hired French Culinary School grad, Aaron Powley, whose repertoire includes traditionally made brioche, croissants, sumptuous French pastries and hearty artisanal breads. Many of the local restaurants feature Powley’s breads and rolls.

Wine tasting at A Few of My Favorite Things.
Wine tasting at A Few of My Favorite Things.

Look around to find trendy boutiques and specialty stores like Squoze, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it grab-and-go spot for freshly made green juices, smoothies, sandwiches and wraps and a well curated selection of health foods. Another can’t-miss is A Few of My Favorite Things, a gourmet gift and wine bar. Here samples of their wines are poured by a sommelier while you nosh on delicious cheeses, spreads and charcuterie. They are one of many spots in town to hear live music at night.

J. T. Merryweather of Reale Revival Brewery.
J. T. Merryweather of Reale Revival Brewery.

Stop in Reale Revival, known by locals as RAR, where industrial chic dominates the quirky cool décor.  The brewery, bar and lounge was started by Dorchester County natives, Chris Brohawn and J. T. Merryweather, who decided to quit their day jobs to make beer – every armchair beer drinker’s fantasy. Luckily for them their palates matched their enthusiasm and they have been producing exceptional artisanal beers. On a hot day the Mine Layer Saison, an unfiltered summer beer in the Belgian Farm style pairs well with sushi and fish tacos from their extensive small bites menu.

On the road to Hooper’s Island.
On the road to Hooper’s Island.

What’s the must-have meal on the Eastern Shore? Why a mess of steamed blue crabs dredged in Old Bay seasoning and served with local corn on the cob, of course! Try the Ocean Odyssey, a family-friendly spot with an outdoor deck on the Ocean Highway. You’ll also find bison burgers, fish tacos and a large selection of beers on tap. For a touch of French bistro cuisine, you’ll need reservations for the new Bistro Poplar.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.

The next day a brilliant summer sun broke through the morning’s haze and after a hearty breakfast at the inn, I headed off for Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, a breathtaking 25,000 acre waterfowl sanctuary with a new visitor’s center, wildlife exhibits featuring Osprey and Bald Eagle cam monitors, and native wildflower gardens. This spectacular gem lies 12 miles south of Cambridge along Bucktown Road. Drivable roads and boardwalks wind through much of the forests and tidal wetlands affording miles of flat trails for hikers, cyclists and birders.

Tim Devine checks his oysters.
Tim Devine checks his oysters.

A few miles southwest lies the windswept chain of islands known collectively as Hoopers Island, where I visited Barren Island Oysters, an oyster aquaculture farm owned and operated by internationally famed nature photographer Tim Devine.  Grown in a pristine cove and transferred to cages in the bay off Barren Island, the conditions offer a desirable salinity, producing  the sustainably raised plump, buttery-tasting triploid oysters that are preferred by many area chefs. A well-known client in DC is BlackSalt restaurant.

Sold to top DC restaurants as the “Ugly Oyster.”
Sold to top DC restaurants as the “Ugly Oyster.”

Farther down the road is Fishing Creek, a small community dotted with crab houses alongside a warren of wooden docks harboring boats for watermen and sport fishing. Founded in the 1700’s, it’s where Phillip’s Seafood began operations 100 years ago.

Old Salty’s on Fishing Creek & Old Salty’s killer all-crab crab cakes.
Old Salty’s on Fishing Creek & Old Salty’s killer all-crab crab cakes.

Have lunch at Old Salty’s, a seafood restaurant in operation for 31 years in a historic schoolhouse with sweeping views of the Chesapeake Bay. The crab cakes here are luscious and destination-worthy – barely held together, lightly broiled mounds of creamy white, jumbo lump crabmeat.  Rockfish, scallops and other locally caught seafood are another big draw. But before toddling back to civilization complete the journey with a slice of their towering coconut, lemon meringue or chocolate pies.

Towering Key Lime and Coconut Cream pies.
Towering Key Lime and Coconut Cream pies.

Mark your Fall calendar for these upcoming Cambridge events:

September 20th and 21st – The IRONMAN Maryland Triathlon is expected to draw 100’s of racers and their families and will dovetail with the town’s 38th Annual Outdoor “Summer Sendoff” street fair of “Blues, Brews and Barbecue”.

Photo credit to Jordan Wright

October 10th to 12th – The Cambridge City Art Fair and Outdoor Street Festival at Guild Hall hosts where local and national dealers and gallerists feature current, as well as antique 18th and 19th century, paintings to view and buy. Here’s more information.

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Jordan Wright
Jordan Wright is an accomplished writer on food, spirits, travel, and theatre. Her clients include the tony Georgetowner and hip sister publication the Downtowner, the Washington Examiner and San Francisco Examiner, as well as LocalKicks.com, DC Metro Magazine, Washington Life Magazine, Washingtonian Magazine, MDTheatreGuide.com, The Alexandria Times, Hartkeisonline.com, and now DCMetroTheaterArts. Her articles feature restaurant openings, food and wine events, food-oriented film reviews, farmer’s markets, food trends, restaurant reviews, food memories, new food products, hotels, spas, resorts and interviews with the country’s leading chefs – from Jose Andres and Top Chef’s Carla Hall, to CakeLove’s Warren Brown and Top Chef’s Spike Mendelsohn. She has also interviewed famed chef and TV star, Anthony Bourdain, Eric Ripert, cookbook author Joan Nathan, and director Robert Kenner for an in-depth article about his film Food, Inc. Photographs by Wright accompany many of her articles and NBCNews.com has picked up and used several of her stories. Jordan Wright hails from three generations of show business. Her grandmother, Betty Morton, was a Ziegfield Follies girl; her step-grandmother Corinne Griffith, a noted author and silent screen star wrote Hail to the Redskins; her father, Georgie Price, an entertainer and founder of The Lamb’s Club in New York, as well as a CBS radio show host, songwriter and vaudevillian; her sister, Penny Larsen Vine, a theatre critic both on radio and in print for Variety, a former longtime member of the Outer Critics Circle, and a lead performer in countless national touring companies; one brother, Peter Price, appeared in leading roles in over 16 major motion pictures for MGM; while her other brother, Marshall Price performed at Carnegie Hall. Niece, Stephanie Vine, was the final Annie in the original production of Annie on Broadway, and niece, Liz Larsen, has received two Tony nominations and a Helen Hayes award for lead actress in Sunday in the Park with George. Wright sang with Columbia Records in New York and Barclay Records in France. In the sports world her grandfather was the original owner and founder of the Washington Redskins football team. Wright has traveled throughout four continents and currently resides in Old Town Alexandria.