Restaurant Review: O'Learys Seafood Restaurant
Jul 12, 2016 04:17PM
● By Cate Reynolds
Creatively Sumptuous Seafood Cuisineolearysseafood.com
By Rita Calvert // Phtotography by Tony Lewis, Jr.
If I had my way, I would always dine by sea. That goes for swimmers of the deep blue as food and coastal glory as the setting. O’Learys, tucked away in a quiet corner of the bustling Eastport scene, is known for earning its place among the few seafood options worthy of visiting. With their own parking lot nestled within a border of large ornamental grasses, customers find it a convenient haven adjoining historic Annapolis and Eastport’s crowded restaurant row. The house exterior invites one to anticipate a memorable meal with its jaunty deep blue-green sea color. A welcome change from the ubiquitous aqua at water-oriented eateries, this is a bright blend of the ocean’s best hues. Inside, the “Glad I’m having a meal here” ambiance continues with rich deep wall colors, plentiful French-paned windows, intriguing paintings by one particular local artist (more on that art later), and cool jazz.
Tom O’Leary bought the 100-year-old Eastport crab shack in 1983 and transformed it into a fine-dining seafood restaurant. Local artist Paul Meyer took over in 1998 and maintained this high standard. Former general manager, Wil Peterson, gained the O’Learys reigns in November 2015. The artful touch still remains in its upscale food design. Even previous owner Paul Meyer’s brilliant-hued paintings continue to brighten the walls (Wil and Paul remain good friends). The quality carries on as O’Learys has won What’s Up? Annapolis’ award for Best Seafood Restaurant many years, including 2016. But enough about the history and decor; we were there to eat.
Creatively crafted cocktails with alluring names such as Boca Fiesta, Bicycles and Baskets, Fresh Cut, or Here Figgy Figgy all appear to infuse fresh fruit, vegetables, and herbs into the libations for $13–14 each. It’s entertaining just to read these concoctions on the menu. O’Learys offers a nice wine list, neither too large nor too brief. The Tiamo Prosecco called to us, refreshing with delightful notes of apple, pear, and citrus without being too sweet. Served in a sleek 187 bottle, there was a just enough to refill the flute part way—a perfect second helping. Later, we tried the Stuhlmuller Chardonnay, partly out of curiosity about this Alexander Valley vineyard-driven winery. While some wine drinkers steer clear of oak notes in their Chardonnay, if you’re not among them, do try this one.
Our friendly, dignified server was quick to answer our questions about the origin of fish, texture, and how each dish was executed. He even deftly explained the unfamiliar fin fish on the menu. Scallop en Croute was intriguing as a starter. Yes, it is a single very large scallop of the prized “diver” variety, crowning a vol au vent (hollow case of buttery light puff pastry) filled with pristine lumps of sweet crab meat. Rich and decadent, a little bit went a long way.
Specials of the eve are often prize offerings. On this night, a whole lobster was highlighted and served sans shell for indulgent eating. Grilled Ahi tuna over lime and cilantro risotto also got star billing with a tropical fusion enhancement. The entrée menu is organized in a novel way. First, there are nearly a dozen seafood options, ranging from some you might hope for, like crabcakes and rockfish, to a number of less oft-seen choices, like Atlantic salmon over Jamaican rice and peas with smashed avocado, lump crab meat, and grilled asparagus.
In addition, O’Learys offers guests a clever option of pairing your choice of several fin fish with any one of five varied preparations: a “Veracruz” spin with tomato salsa and black bean saffron rice; “Florentine” with spinach, mushrooms, cream, Italian cheese, and risotto bianco; “Gremolata” with garlic, herbed bread crumbs, and haricot verts; “Mango Fire” with roasted habanero chutney and mashed sweet potatoes; or the “‘Q’ Equation,” barbecued with grilled onions, peppers, pineapple, and wild rice pilaf.
Not to be overlooked is the prix fixe menu available on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday evenings. For a total of $39, a three-course meal includes a soup or salad, an appetizer with choice of Prince Edward Island mussels, Shrimp Toast, or Grilled Oysters. Two of the prized proven entrees choices are Crispy Rockfish or Shrimp and Grits. It’s a winner of stellar seafood if it suits your schedule.
My friend selected the Blue Cobia cooked “Florentine” style. In a word, it was wonderful. The cobia was as fresh as if local, and cooked just right. The Florentine twist was topped with pretty green sprouts for color and crunch. The risotto, creamy and cheesy.
Ingredient sourcing, with as much local as possible, was explained as I asked about the seasonality of the extremely popular Crispy Rockfish, a favorite for 18 years. This fish is sourced from a Virginia rockfish farm. Who knew the new developments for Maryland’s official state fish? Much as I like to keep up on our sustainable land and sea farming, it was a surprise that the first harvest for this fish was long ago in 1989.
For an entree, I opted for exotic Sopa de Mariscos after learning it was thicker than a Bouillabaisse yet not as dense as Cioppino. Swimming in a spicy white wine broth abundant with tomatoes, saffron, and garlic were a plethora of prawns, mussels, littleneck clams, calamari, fin fish, and sea scallops. The large dish of delectables was visually stunning and tasty with plenty of broth for bread sopping.
Grazing and sampling while chatting, we left room to split a sweet finish. Elaine’s Cheesecake was the dessert we’d hoped to get to know, being quite famous. Talk about local: there actually is an Elaine and she works at O’Learys. Alas, she was away and her sought-after cheesecake was not to be had. So we chose the Bread Pudding of the night. A high and mighty square came studded with Michigan dried cherries and a short drizzle of caramelized sugar over the top. Garnished with a cloud of whipped cream, the firm dessert was just the right balance of moisture and texture.
Attire is “Annapolis casual” but a dressier route is often taken as O’Learys has become the seafood moorage spot for special occasions.