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Hunters' Tavern Serves up Local Flavor

Aug 20, 2013 04:29PM ● By Cate Reynolds

By Gail Greco // Photos by Tony Lewis, Jr.

Earlier in the day, in a breezy sleeveless tank top, I weeded beds, raked dusty pine needles, shored up straggly herbs and planted begonias. What kept me plowing under the hot sun was the vision of dinner that evening, enjoying someone else’s potted landscapes from a sidewalk seat on the patio of Hunters’ Tavern at the Tidewater Inn.

By evening, the sun did a three-sixty and a cold drizzle only nourished joy on the fresh plantings; inside table for sure now. I wore a sweater of poppies and purple iris to make up for the most certain loss of flowers in the absence of eating en plein air. A resident of the area, I was behind in trying the reinvented restaurant that locals have been buzzing about since the ownership changed in 2009, steering the Easton landmark Tidewater Inn into revival mode.

Walking to the Tidewater’s circular entry, I struggled in the wind, hugging a skimpy jacket and scarf. A sprightly hostess saw my distress and smiled warmer than the missing evening sun. Behind her, flickering lanterns, the size of summer watermelons, softly whispered, “Come on in, we’ll warm you.” 

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Passing through the intimate Tavern Room, olive jugs of perfumed peonies and the patina of antiqued chestnut ceilings—curved like a ship’s hull—heightened my longing for a cozy table for two. We stepped down to the old Brick Room—with its stylish new bar—opposite the clear glass wall and barrel ceiling of the Decanter private dining room. We sat in front of original tall windows with true divided light, framing a Sargent watercolor of town life as visible as if we were on that patio; so I didn’t miss a beat. Retro fi lament bulbs under chic warehouse-style pendants evenly lit the bar’s focal point artwork, a dappled communion of sailboats on the Choptank by renowned Eastern Shore photographer David Harp. The 1989 photo inspired the bar’s look, making the locals right at home and showing visitors the other reason they came to the shore, besides sipping the tavern’s most local of draft beers, Dogfish or 16 Mile.

We savored a soft-pretzel bread (baked in-house) with the chef ’s complementary edamame/garlic spread. A New Zealand sauvignon blanc by Infamous Goose offered a mélange of nectarine, peach, and berry for a cleansing interlude at $8 a glass. Cosseting waitress Barbie had to know I was pining for all things warm-weather when she suggested the crisp-tasting wine.

The service of the evening was to prove one of the restaurant’s many distinguished assets, stemming from Food and Beverage Manager Emily Jones, whose friendly hospitality is reflected throughout the staff. Emily hopped on board when managing owner John Wilson took over the 98-room hotel and began to bring back its original charm. Guest rooms are getting a facelift, including fluffy comforters and more David Harp framed photos. 

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Entrees go from $14 for an Oyster Po’ Boy or black angus tavern burger to a $40 sugar-rubbed and onion-topped angus steak. We volleyed menu choices back and forth to create adventure, unafraid of trying something new in the well-seasoned hands of chef Paul Shiley, who has spent most of his culinary career on the Eastern Shore, where he has a following. He even brought in a former waterman and culinaire as his sous chef. “We are known for our crab dishes,” Paul says. “I use only lump crab meat and a minimum of ingredients.”

To start, we enjoyed grilled shrimp in a lemon-rosemary essence that kept the tomato-olive salsa light and tingly. A petite crabcake in a rich, irresistible cognac sauce tasted of toffee. Because we both love pizza, we ordered the Tavern’s lavash version, its ultra-thin crust allowing the flavors of melted Fontina, wild mushrooms, arugula, and truffle oil to stand out.

I dove in for the lobster-like monkfish entrée, seared and in a swirl of angel spaghetti with a creamy chardonnay and roasted tomato saffron sauce. My partner was after the veal porterhouse, the petite filet mignon, or the mustard-crusted lamb. We already had crab and since the filet was stuffed with it, and the chops came with mashed potatoes, he opted for the porterhouse, anxious to enjoy the old-world flavors of its mushroom polenta side. I was tempted but passed on the sumptuous crab gazpacho served in a martini glass, and also a bright vegetarian dish served with artichokes and green peas tossed with pink sauce-coated pasta.

It was easy to spring for a bottle of wine here, anywhere from $85 down to $24, with many choices under $35 that are not only affordable, but of high quality. Barbie seconded our choice of a J. Lohr balanced blackberry cab called Paso Robles for $28, suitable to my surf and his turf.

Smith Island Coconut Cake was as good as it gets for ending a meal Eastern Shore style, just ask a local. And don’t worry, you will find them any night at the table next to you. I am told they also swarm the patio, but I will have to find that out for myself some other not-so-fickle evening when I will now, a tad wiser, consult the AccuWeather. 

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Meanwhile, it does not matter where they seat you. You will see and experience it all, and fit right in with the locals—loving how Hunters’ Tavern has come to life again.

Gail Greco is a food and home interiors creator and writer, and photo art director/stylist. Author of 16 books and TV producer/host for the Discovery Channel and PBS, she is a Knowledge Partner at Yahoo and is chef/editor of the DuPont Tefl on cooking website. She lives and works on the Eastern Shore and Sarasota, Fla.

Hunters’ Tavern at the Tidewater Inn
101 E. Dover St., Easton
Appetizers: $9-16
Entrees: $14-40