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Restaurant Review: A Magical Destination in Rock Hall, The Inn At Osprey Point

Jul 20, 2016 12:45PM ● By Cate Reynolds
By Mary Lou Baker // Phtotography by Jennifer Madino

The Inn at Osprey Point

20786 Rock Hall Ave., Rock Hall
410-639-2194 |
Dinner, at 5 p.m, Wed.–Sun., Feb.–Dec.
Sunday Brunch 12:30–2 p.m.; May–Sept.
Major credit cards accepted. Reservations recommended. Docking available; reserve slip by calling the main number or online

Million dollar yachts share dock space with more modest craft at The Inn at Osprey Point, a magnificent complex on Swan Creek in Rock Hall. We drove there from Annapolis, stopping to drop off our lab for overnight boarding in Chestertown before traveling another half-hour or so to our destination. For those coming by boat, it’s another story. The Inn’s strategic location near the Chesapeake Bay provides easy access to Rock Hall—from Annapolis, the distance is about 16 miles.

What you will see upon arrival by land or by bay is a storybook scene featuring a handsome building designed by owner Jerome Messina and decorated by his wife Shirley. Messina, a retired corporate lawyer who once considered a career as an architect, spared no expense in building an authentic replica of an elegant Eastern Shore Colonial-style residence.

Beneath its pitched roof are seven luxurious guest rooms with period furnishings and handsome artwork commemorating historic English fox hunts. We stayed in an elegant suite with a waterfront view from the bedroom and adjacent sitting room separated by French doors.

Messina’s 30-acre spread also includes The Farmhouse, a tastefully restored four-bedroom 19th century residence; an Olympic-size outdoor swimming pool, and a fully-equipped bath house in a separate wing of the main building that caters to slip holders and transient boaters. The Annex, about a quarter mile down the road at the Gratitude Marina, has six waterfront rooms.

Wherever you stay on the property, food is not far away. A carpeted staircase leads from the inn’s second story to The Hunt Room, a well-appointed 60-seat dining room with a working fireplace that is open year-round (except January) for dinner Wednesday through Sunday. The space serves as a gallery of sorts for noted artist Marc Castelli, whose works celebrate the life of local watermen. Those on display are from Mr. Messina’s private collection and deserve your attention.

We were eager to test the inn’s culinary waters and delighted with the easy elegance of the main dining room. With 20-year-old Joe Edler as head cook and Josh Shonts as his assistant, the inn’s menu is classic American cooking with a slight Southern accent. Trained to cook in the Kent County Culinary Arts work-study program, Edler has worked in local eateries since he was 14 and trained under a former Osprey Point Inn chef who was wooed away to the iconic 1789 restaurant in Georgetown several months ago.

Edler, in a post-visit phone interview, says his favorite cuisine is French and his most-admired celebrity chef is Thomas Keller (French Laundry in California, Per Se in NYC), known and respected in the industry as a “master technician.” When asked for examples of a la Francaise influences on his menu he says they appear in “twists,” citing the house-made demi-glace on the rib-eye steak, the beurre blanc he uses with his asparagus risotto, and the béchamel sauce in his crab macaroni and cheese. Edler buys local whenever he can and changes his menus seasonally.

Asked for a preview of his spring menu, he mentions: duck liver pate; lobster risotto; curry-rubbed quail; rockfish with smoked bacon, orzo, and spinach; and rack of lamb with potato pave (one of Keller’s signature dishes), Brussels sprouts, black berry gastrique, and pistachio dust. “These are among the dishes I am most excited about. They take a lot of precise execution to prepare correctly and have a great complex flavor,” Edler says.
Our visit was in late March, before the busy season started. We were seated in one of the most attractive dining rooms in Kent County, with a cozy bar at the entry, a fireplace as a centerpiece, and French doors opening onto an inviting screened porch for seasonal use. We jumped ahead of the season with assertive vodka tonics and skimmed a compact menu of appetizers featuring Maryland-style crab soup, mussels, fried oysters, and crab dip, and a half-dozen entrees.

A warm loaf of house-made French bread was a fine addition to my choice of multiple mussels poached in white wine and garlic—the sauce savory and the seafood fat and fresh. My companion praised his salad of arugula, Granny Smith apple slices, and toasted pecans in balsamic vinegar dressing flecked with blue cheese. Both appetizers were first-rate and the bread a suitable sop for the mussel broth made with just the right amount of fresh garlic.

Of the main courses we chose from seven options—among them a crab cake and fried oysters, (each accompanied by hush puppies), crab macaroni, pork belly with grits and the kitchen’s homemade marmalade, a 10-ounce ribeye steak, crab imperial-stuffed shrimp, and red snapper. The baked snapper, a gorgeous specimen, was served whole with a mound of creamy couscous and a garnish of diced avocado. We easily de-boned it ourselves at the table, exposing its white flesh and self-seasoning with squeezes of fresh lemon. It was a magnificent dish.

My choice of stuffed shrimp was served in a small ramekin—quite cozy for its contents. The lump crab was less noticeable within the Imperial. The accompaniments of roasted potatoes and still-crisp green beans were quite good. With the seafood, we sipped a good New Zealand sauvignon blanc from elegant long-stemmed goblets.

Wines by the glass (a pinot grigio from Oregon, Columbia Crest’s classic chardonnay, and a Riesling from the Washington boutique Kung Fu Girl and rated 91 by Wine Spectator) are $9. Someone savvy put together the inn’s choice of wines—selections are mostly from small West Coast vineyards, with representatives from Chile, New Zealand, France, and South Africa. Prices range from $24–42 per bottle.We lingered over coffee and desserts—a dense bread pudding with a side of Ben and Jerry’s vanilla ice cream and the kitchen’s original creation of lemon curd in a flaky crust.

Darkness had fallen as we left the dining room, thanking longtime server Tilly (a stalwart since the inn’s 1993 opening) and promising to catch up with a congenial couple who come often to Osprey Point, staying at the inn’s Annex. Andy and Trudy Strobe are both accomplished amateur photographers who subsequently emailed me Trudy’s remarkable shot of an osprey “dining out.”

Little did we suspect that the best was yet to come, until we joined other guests for breakfast in a cozy room next to the main dining room. Long-time innkeeper (12 years) Terry Nelson had prepared a tempting buffet that included a delicious Mexican-style quiche, French toast with berries, mini banana bread loaves, homemade fruit pastries, and her special pumpkin rolls. Nelson herself greeted guests while she kept her eye on the serving table to be sure it was well stocked.

It was a sweet ending to a memorable stay at The Inn at Osprey Point—a unique and gracious getaway for anyone seeking tranquility and a chance to explore their surroundings via kayak, bicycle, or on foot.

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