Class of the Chesapeake
Nov 24, 2014 09:00AM
● By Cate Reynolds
458 Forest Beach Road, Annapolis
410-757-1311 | cantlers.com
By Diana Jeffra // Photography by Tony Lewis, Jr.
Described as “where the watermen gather,” this tucked away waterfront gem of a restaurant does not disappoint. As soon as you enter the classic, crab house atmosphere, you feel right at home. It’s also very accommodating with abundant parking for your vehicle or docking for your boat. Known to locals as simply “Cantler’s,” it is a perfect place to come with a large group and sit outside or in and pick some crabs.
The inside is exactly what you would imagine a traditional crab house to look like—dimly lit with large wooden tables and black metal chairs with red cushions. It’s an ambiance that some chain restaurants attempt to imitate, but there is absolutely nothing like the real thing. The walls are lined with chalkboards listing the daily specials and, of course, there’s the large roll of Kraft paper that makes that ever so familiar tearing sound throughout the meal.
Being in a crab house we couldn’t skip the crabs, but before we dove into cracking, we started with some cold beer and appetizers. As noted on the wall and on their menu, Cantler’s proudly serves canned beer, of which they have a nice craft selection. I went for the Striped Bass IPA and my guest went with Blue Moon. For appetizers, we decided on the Smoked Fish Plate ($13), Calamari ($13), and Maryland Crab Soup ($5 cup). The smoked fish plate was a rather straightforwardly constructed dish, but was quite delicious. It had a bed of green leaf lettuce, halved cherry tomatoes, fine dice of red onion, capers, and dill pickle spears topped with large portions of smoked blue fish filets and served with a horseradish dipping sauce. The ingredients were simple and clean, but the flavor combinations were tasty.
The calamari was also quite good. The traditional rings and tentacles were fried to a crispy golden brown and served with a sweet and tangy sauce and pickled red onion. The sauce was a nice alternate to a traditional marinara that is usually served with calamari.
The Maryland crab soup was quite good, with generous bits of crab and hearty vegetables. A traditional tomato-based soup that has mixed vegetables and is usually heavily spiced with crab seasoning, such as Old Bay or J.O. Spice (which always leads to an interesting debate among Maryland seafood enthusiasts), this version had all the classic ingredients and was delicious.
For our entrées, we went all out. My guest ordered the Steamed Sampler ($26) and I went with the Seafood Broiler ($28). The steamed sampler had six Cherrystone clams, a dozen mussels, half a pound of shrimp, and we opted for the addition of three crabs. All the food came out perfectly steamed and served with drawn butter and Old Bay. This dish presented basic form, was delicious, and not served with any questionable herbs or spices—just classic, high quality seafood that tastes very good in its simplest form and can be seasoned as you like with butter and Old Bay. The crabs were of decent size with extra claws thrown on the plate. Their weight was pretty hefty and the flavor was excellent.
The seafood broiler was just as big as the steamed sampler. It came with rockfish, scallops, and jumbo shrimp, all served with a choice of starch and vegetable. I chose fried green tomatoes and sweet potato fries. The portion was so large, I was able to take half home for next day’s lunch (and made my co-workers drool). All the food was seasoned beautifully, not too spicy but enough to brighten all the briny flavors. The rockfish was tender, scallops were delicate and perfectly cooked, and the shrimp were large and full of flavor.
Dessert for us was Key Lime Pie and Apple Pie Cheesecake. The key lime pie was the perfect balance of sweet and tart with the creamy filling and tender crumb of the pie crust. The apple pie cheesecake had a pie crust bottom with a layer of cheesecake, apple pie filling, and topped with more cheesecake.Jimmy Cantler’s Riverside Inn is a classic example of a traditional Maryland seafood restaurant. It got its start in 1974 and will, hopefully, thrive for years to come. It has everything that I remember as a kid growing up on the Bay and is a great treat to be able to bring friends and family here to share with them our Maryland traditions of picking crabs and eating amazing, local seafood.
Eastern Shore native Diana Jeffra is a professional chef and aspiring food stylist. Her background in graphic design and her culinary degree from the Hotel, Culinary Arts and Tourism Institute have led her to begin work on her first cookbook. Past adventures have led her to culinary competitions and a summer cooking in Italy.