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Restaurant Review: Pusser’s Caribbean Grille

Nov 07, 2016 04:36PM ● By Cate Reynolds
By Mary Lou Baker // Photography by Tony J. Lewis

Pusser’s Caribbean Grille
Annapolis Waterfront Hotel
80 Compromise St., Annapolis
410-626-0004. Open 6:30 a.m. –11 p.m. Mon-Thurs, 7 a.m.–1:30 a.m.
Fri-Sat, 7–11 p.m. Sun. Breakfast
Buffet Weekends 7 a.m.-noon.
Indoor and seasonal deck dining. Reservations suggested.
Casual attire. Major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.

Pusser’s, which takes its name from the term “purser,” the gent who parceled out a tot of rum to sailors serving onboard ships in the British Navy from 1655–1970, is best enjoyed in good weather. That’s when you can relax on the dock at an umbrella table, sip a potent rum cocktail called a Pain Killer or a Stewarts Old-Time Root Beer in the bottle, and ogle the parade of watercraft (from kayaks to corporate yachts) along what is locally known as Ego Alley. Another attraction is a raffish bar scene and on weekends you might think you’ve stumbled into a night club.

While Pusser’s is located in the Annapolis Waterfront Hotel, the restaurant is independently owned. The original is in Tortola, BVI and sister establishments in: Ponte Verde, Florida; Puerto Rico; and Germany. The Annapolis location dates back to 1995, the same year that chef Jim Erickson came on board shortly after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America. Erickson is still at the helm, changing his menu twice a year, coming up with daily specials, and directing a kitchen that turns out some very good food.

On our review visit, we ordered the milder version of the Pain Killer—a blend of Pusser’s rum, pineapple juice, orange juice, and cream of coconut on the rocks, with a sprinkle of nutmeg on top. It was deceptively smooth tasting, though when I asked our waiter if anyone had gone weird after “one too many,” he confided that five partying friends had actually jumped off the dock in response to a dare from one of their hard-partying group. My companion was happy with his bottle of root beer.

Appetizers make a meal here. A dozen meaty mussels from Prince Edward Island, steamed in white wine swirled with garlic butter, were fat and filling with toasted French bread to sop up the aromatic broth. Chopped tomatoes, onions, and green peppers added color to the chef’s original Maryland crab dip recipe. I wished for more than a pair of jumbo (16–20) fried shrimp in a crisp coconut breading and served in a sundae dish with a delicious dipping sauce of house-made chutney of gingery yellow tomatoes. Other encores went to Pusser’s Tortola Black Bean Soup, a vegetarian recipe capped with tomatoes, scallions, cheese, and sour cream.
I looked on with envy as two nearby diners tucked into one of the evening’s specials—a one-pound steamed Maine lobster partnered with red potatoes and mixed vegetables for $19, a treat often offered on Monday nights. The other featured entrée was Tournedos Annapolitan, a trio of petit filet mignons crowned with jumbo lump crab, finished with béarnaise sauce, and served with steamed asparagus and mashed potatoes ($24.95). Other temptations were in the fin fish family—corvina, gulf snapper, barramundi (a red-fleshed Australian sea perch whose color changes to white after cooking), and Atlantic halibut, a delicious smooth-textured fish with lots of omega 3.

But we were concentrating on house favorites and my companion got lucky with the chef’s Rockfish Annapolitan, the local fish pan-seared under jumbo lump crabmeat and a graceful drape of béarnaise sauce. Steamed carrots, green beans, and a mound of spicy rice rounded out a generous platter of well-prepared food. I felt honor-bound to order the curried chicken sauté after a staff member described it as one of the restaurant’s “best sellers,” brought back to the menu by popular demand after it was scratched two years ago. The dish was a marriage of jerk-rubbed chicken thighs, sliced and combined with pineapple, peppers, and onions in a rather sweet coconut sauce.

Pusser’s, true to its Caribbean roots, serves a memorable Key Lime pie—the nutty crust a generous cradle for a velvety filling sharpened with the flavor of this prized fruit and sweetened by a tracing of Chantilly cream. A scoop of coconut ice cream was a simpler sweet, arriving with a crisp cylindrical cookie. We were favorably impressed with a dining experience that exceeded expectations, as did their Sunday brunch we had enjoyed on the deck—especially the made-to-order omelets and the homemade biscuits, a bargain at $12.99, including coffee.

Dining indoors is a different experience, although tables by the window provide the same waterfront view through the glass. And where you sit doesn’t change the quality of the kitchen’s performance, which on our visits deserved high marks, or the level of the service by a staff of polite young people. If you go, take time to inspect the photos on the walls of the entry hall. They trace the history of Annapolis as it was a century ago and merit your attention.

Mary Lou Baker is a frequent contributor to What’s Up? Media publications and self-professed gourmand. She has authored numerous culinary articles and recently penned the book Seafood Lover’s Chesapeake Bay: Restaurants, Markets, Recipes & Traditions.

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