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Restaurant Review: Rod ‘N’ Reel Restaurant at the Chesapeake Beach Resort & Spa

Aug 16, 2016 03:56PM ● By Cate Reynolds

Catch of the Day…And Night

Rod ‘N’ Reel Restaurant

at the Chesapeake Beach Resort & Spa 
4165 Mears Avenue, Chesapeake Beach.
866-312-5596. Open daily, 8 a.m.–2 a.m.

By Rita Calvert | Photography by Tony Lewis, Jr.

“Nautikos,” we have arrived...for dinner at the restaurant of the Chesapeake Beach Resort & Spa! The gushing fountain beckoned, giving the entrance a grand ambiance. Even just before dusk, we found the restaurant bright and airy with large picture windows showcasing the narrow beach, boardwalk, a bulbous gazebo christened “The Chesapeake Dome,” and the Bay beyond—a very pleasing vista. Bright pops of marine blue in linen napkins and other decor complemented the crisp white railings and window trim. Natural wood tabletops and window-side banquettes allowed for the food and the water to be the main attractions.

To step back in time, from 1900, Chesapeake Beach was a thriving independent community started by The Chesapeake Beach Railway Company, which eventually went bankrupt in1935. Only 28 miles from Washington, D.C., Chesapeake Beach drew people by railway and steamboats for a cool breezy getaway, amusement park fun, strolls on the boardwalk, casino gaming, theaters, and dining. The Rod ‘N’ Reel Restaurant and Marina have hugged Maryland’s Western Shore as a masthead of this mix since 1946 when the Donovan family invested in a large parcel of land. The same family has run this show for three generations.

When the Donovans built the hotel and spa in 2004, Chesapeake Beach Resort & Spa was born, recapturing the original intent of the founders of this small town—a bayside resort just close enough to Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Annapolis. Extremely active, Gerald Donovan, is now at the helm with big plans for future development, even though well over retirement age.  

We were seated with a prime view and offered beverages by our waiter, Xander. With a friendly manner, he explained his name is simply short for Alexander. The abbreviated wine list offers bottles from France, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Washington State, and California, plus a few house selections. As my friend had decided on a cocktail, a voluminous Bombay Blue Sapphire Martini arrived from the separate bar area. Large green stuffed olives floated in the libation, which seemed to be a bit of the “dirty” style, meaning it contained a splash of olive brine.

Xander delivered a plate of crackers and port wine cheese spread (complimentary) as we perused the menu. Majoring in seafood, with just enough beef to satisfy a land lover, the menu has special designations for Chesapeake classics lovers or gluten free diners. Some of the dishes have a decidedly Mediterranean slant. Two vegetarian entrees are offered heavy in vegetables, of course, along with a helping of pasta.  
The Mediterranean Sea called to us with Portobello Neptune. Verdantly delicious, a flash fried single leaf of basil floated on the top of the two, three-inch caps of the fleshy mushrooms. Under the nicely crusted cheese topping, we found an Italian style blend of sundried tomatoes, basil notes, and some tiny shrimp.

As oyster lovers, we couldn’t resist sampling a classic, Oysters Rockefeller, originally created at the New Orleans restaurant Antoine’s in 1899. The appetizer was considered so rich that it was named after the richest man of the day, John D. Rockefeller. Rod ‘N’ Reel’s version held up to the extremely rich moniker with an oyster on a large shell with a topping of spinach, Pernod, and mayonnaise, all finished beneath crustily baked Parmesan cheese.

Knowing Rod ‘N’ Reel’s Crab Imperial has been famed since the eatery’s opening, we asked for a description. Xander explained the huge lumps of backfin crab are bound with their mayonnaise-based Imperial sauce. The masterpiece is then baked in a cruet until it develops a crispy crust. Given the richness of the previous oyster dish, my dining friend decided to go with the land offering of the Organic French Cut Chicken Breast. The French-style presents a smaller bird, so the portion of a half of the pullet was boned, marinated, and roasted with a concentrated demi-glace sauce pooling on the side. Green beans and homemade mashed potatoes were the accompaniments. Our side dish of Mixed Wild Mushroom Medley added immensely to the demi-glace and fowl.

A fresh fish special entrée caught my eye: a Black Sea Bass filet topping a bed of mushroom risotto, blanketed with fiery garlic tomato coulis. Perky vegetables consisting of two roulades of spicy eggplant and rapini (broccoli rabe) helped fill the large plate. The interesting marriage of flavors made for a robust entrée. 

As darkness fell outside, the waterfall boardwalk lights illuminated the osprey nest crowning the boating marker—quite a vision in itself.

A shared sweet taste was on order when we learned from Xander the Apple Crisp is made in-house and is especially popular. The piping hot cruet of Apple Crisp sidled up to a large scoop of excellent vanilla ice cream and was drizzled lightly with caramel. The crisp’s topping of oats, brown sugar, and butter reminded me of the versions of my childhood where my siblings and I would go for the topping, leaving the apples lonely for a “taker.” Not so here, as we polished off the entire earthy masterpiece.

As a getaway destination, Chesapeake Beach Resort offers many activities right on the grounds: the Railway Museum, which displays vintage photos of the early 1900s; spa, hotel, and B&B packages; and concerts and wine tastings are regular events. There is also a game room with video slot machines and opportunities to play bingo. Not to mention, this “Charter Fishing Capital of Maryland since 1946,” also boasts two marinas. 

The buzz is confirmed. Recasting itself as a destination for dinner and a show (Xander declared that restaurant diners can watch the independent wedding outside the window as the “show”), “gaming,” and charter fishing, Chesapeake Beach Resort & Spa is now planning a dramatic expansion. Expected to take around two years to complete, the project will include tearing down the lowest (and oldest) part of the property, the current Rod ‘N’ Reel, then building a new structure compliant with current flood regulations. A spectacular sky-lit glass atrium will connect the existing hotel with the new structure. The new Chesapeake Beach Resort & Spa will include a two-story Rod ‘N’ Reel Restaurant, three levels of hotel suites, retail units, an arcade, boardwalk promenade, restaurants, gaming and bingo areas, and a rooftop pool and bar with its own adjacent parking.

As a food writer, blogger, food stylist, Rita Calvert has partnered in writing cookbooks and developed product lines to showcase the inspiration, art and nourishment of food.

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