Savor the Experience
Sep 30, 2014 01:06PM ● Published by Cate Reynolds
By Gail Greco
Photography by Jenna Walcott
The Narrows Restaurant
3023 Kent Narrows Way South, Grasonville
A few steps up a front porch to a house with Cape Cod-style roof and dormers, and the half-glass front door swings open, revealing a pretty face ushering us inside. A few words on an attached brass plaque catch a glint of early evening sunlight to reflect: No Cell Phones. It’s a little sign with a big message, and one I determine is meant with a smile and for my (all of our) own good.
We’re slowing down, no longer at warp-speed but rather shifting to sophisticated wharf-side cruise at The Narrows Restaurant. Been living on the Eastern Shore 12 years and had never heard of the eatery, perhaps because it’s not in clear view, tucked cozily beneath the towering Kent Narrows bridge, here in Grasonville. The engineering marvel—visible from the bar/lounge—doesn’t make you feel insignificant, but rather empowered, especially with a glass of Black Opal Shiraz and, for my partner, a silky Cambria Chardonnay, in hand. The bridge’s supports vault upward fan-like, in the spirit of a Gothic cathedral, supporting a byway of whizzing Shore-bound motorists on this Friday night.
We walked from the main dining room to the enclosed porch, surrounded by views of the passing boats and flowing waters of the Kent Narrows, the much-traversed sliver leading from the Chester River toward Eastern Bay.
No sooner had my husband and I chosen our table, than two friends arrived. Moments earlier, they had been peering through the white-etched looking glass bar divider panel, watching us with amusement as we made the first, most important decision of the night, where to sit. Back and forth we ambled between comfortable, sunny enclosed porch and light-and-airy, swanky nautical dining room.
“We were phoning you to say we were enjoying the bar and the bridge, please save us a seat, but neither of you answered.” Obviously they hadn’t seen the no-cell phone sign. Or was it the Heineken and the house specialty Sunset Martini with pomegranate splash that was setting them back a bit? I didn’t ask.
We took at least 40 minutes to order, enjoying the cozy four-top inside the main dining room, painted in a vibe of coastal navy blues. Waitress Cat purred about our table with beverage reinforcements and starters of calamari ($11.95) with roasted garlic marinara (the only way my Sicilian grandmother ever served the squid, except when she stuffed the chewy sacks with crab and Italian spices at holidays). We sucked littleneck clams ($13.95) steamed in a citrusy white wine broth and carefully snapped smoked salmon napoleons ($12.95), supported with their own stanchions of crisped wonton pastry layers, bridging curls of quality smoked salmon, and a caper dill cream bejeweling a dice of tangy ruby red onion.
The first sign of a good restaurant is the respite allowed at the table, a nice reward for leaving the pocket computer phone out of sight as requested, so I thought, as we munched on mini ciabatta rolls and thick cuts of house savory brown bread with raisin nuggets. They expect you to be happy here, and seem to know how to make that happen with a knowledgeable and professionally managed staff that beams pleasantries.
I had almost decided on a cream of crab soup ($7.95 cup) to try the house favorite. And to sample their meat, I was eyeing the shank-cut braised pork ($28.95) in balsamic port and glazed onions. But once Cat touted the evening’s specials, I took a menu switchback to the just-caught, broiled Chesapeake rockfish. Executive Chef Matt Cohey was also offering a crab gazpacho special. And since local foods trump all else for me when I dine out, I was encouraging everyone to pied piper their way with me to the freshest choices so I would have more to sample and write about. The rockfish was on a bed of risotto adorned with Centreville corn, home-grown basil, and Maryland crab.
Before heading to a table, you can eye the ever-changing seasonal opportunities to eat local that are written with yellow marker on a mirror in the entry foyer: Now Serving Local—and there is a list of ingredients from various Chesapeake farms that are being cooked in the kitchen and tossed into an abundant choice of salads. A nut-and-berry toss ($9.95) my husband chose, for example, was brightened with strawberries grown in Caroline County. Bibb lettuce was local, from Chesapeake Green House in Sudlersville, and came with the popular area tomatoes from Hummingbird Farms out of Ridgely. Because peaches were beginning to ripen at Mallard Farm in Centreville, the chef decided on a peach shortcake for a local dessert opp.
The locals on Kent Island have many good dockside restaurants to choose from, each with its own interesting story. For instance, at The Narrows they love to serve oysters as a wink to the building’s oyster-house shucking past. The owners built the homey restaurant on this foundation in 1983. Oyster nights are popular at the restaurant, where the chef pairs the local catch with artisanal craft beers. Do try the oysters ($18.95) here—even if you are not a big fan—as The Narrows really knows how to make them sing with a deep fry and lemony twist.
The atmosphere of fine dining with a breezy, casual attitude is echoed on the menu. If you don’t want to go for the heavier dinner options, The Narrows proffers a Light Supper section—all under $20, including a salad. Our dining companion ordered from this section, and when the grilled lemon and rosemary chicken breast ($15.95) arrived at the table with peas and garlic mashed potatoes in a serving bowl, we wondered if we had ordered off the wrong side of the bill-of-fare. All of the food served here is bountiful but not so much that you can’t eat it all and save room for dessert like the house special mousse in a bag ($9.50), which is a 3-inch tall baggie made of semisweet chocolate, filled with white chocolate, and tied over with raspberry sauce.
When our other dining partner, who travels all over the world for the State Department, took one bite of the chef’s crab cake (prices daily), she put down her fork to savor her experience more: “Oh, this is wonderful…no fillers—the one time you are pleased to find nothing but lumps in your food.”
The range of seafood and meat choices is just right here…everything from catfish crusted with pecans ($16.95)… to a crab imperial with smoky applewood bacon (priced daily)… to lamb racks draped in wild mushrooms ($35.95)… and Creekstone Farms’ angus beef (prices vary) prepared so many ways. Something for everyone.
On the way back to our home on the mid-shore, we talked about the evening’s special opportunity to have yet another great eatery close enough. My husband was asking if I could duplicate Chef Cohey’s crab-and-corn risotto with red pepper coulis that he had savored meticulously. I assured him I’d try, but would have to see if the local corn was finally at the Easton or St. Michaels farmers’ market next morning.
“I’ll make a note of it,” I said and realized I needed my cell phone to add this to my digital To-Do list. Whoops, where was that phone? We hadn’t bothered with it for several hours and didn’t even think to turn it back on. If I care to remember how, I need to phone them up at The Narrows and thank them for a great meal and a whole lot more. Oh, and to use it to make our next reservation there where we can be assured of enjoying that risotto---the Chef Cohey way!
Gail Greco is a food and home interiors writer and photo art director/stylist. Author of 16 cookbooks and TV producer/host for the Discovery Channel and PBS, she is chef/editor of the DuPont Teflon cooking website. She lives and works on the Eastern Shore and in Sarasota, Florida.