The Taste: O’Leary’s Seafood Restaurant
Chefs Charles Porcietta and Jason Hall
O’Leary’s Seafood Restaurant
310 Third St., Annapolis // 410-263-0884
By Rita Calvert // Photography by Tony Lewis, Jr.
On a wind-whipped afternoon with the ornamental grasses bending, I got together with Wil Peterson to talk about new and novel happenings at O’Leary’s Seafood Restaurant. As a youthful and gregarious fellow, he chatted with me over the newly refinished mahogany bar. In the afternoon light, I got to take in the new touches of color on walls and the vibrant new artwork. The painting of the ’75 VW van was eye-catching and so was Wil’s life-size version proudly displayed in the parking lot. He says he renovates them just to keep them alive! We talked about keeping the legacy of O’Leary’s alive and true to the original foundation along with the evolution to keep things fresh and vibrant.
What are the different hats you wear each day?First I start the day at 6:30 a.m. in my dad hat and get my three kids off to school. Directly after that I get to the restaurant where I follow the lists on three different clipboards. I’m owner, general manager, bookkeeper, janitor, marketer, advertising specialist, graphic artist (Wil designed the logo and menu), receptionist, wine director, drink designer, and occasionally chef...mainly to learn and just to keep my hands in the food. Now that’s fun! I’m just a ‘jack of all trades.’ In the evening, I’m sommelier and just a regular guy, talking to our customers. I meet with Chef Charles (Buz) Porcietta to discuss specials for the following day and ingredients we need to order. After that comes the drink experimentation and development.
Tell us some news for O’Leary’s.Brunch on Saturday and Sunday is new and doing very well after one year. We do à la carte style with the standard Bloody Mary and Eggs Benedict which Annapolitans love, and then we get a bit cheeky and have fun with dishes like Pancake Sticks. We take a medium-cooked slice of applewood-smoked bacon, dip it in pancake batter and cook. It’s topped with bourbon crème anglaise. Brunch has added another great line item for us. The atmosphere for brunch is more relaxed with a fun vibe and James Brown kind of music.
We’re also in the sprucing up mode. The decor had been the same since 1998. When I bought it from Paul Meyer in 2015, I gave it a fresh set of eyes. The artwork is new by two local artists. The walls are a fresh blue color and the floor is gray tile in the wood-grain style.
What is your background? How did it prepare you to own a restaurant?It all started when I was 15 and slinging suds (dishwashing). I then moved up to busboy and then through all positions. I ran my first restaurant at age 22. I love the interaction with people and the ever-evolving business. No cubicles for me! I always need to exercise that creative flair. I’m blessed to have a great palate so advancing to owning a restaurant and building a successful wine list has been so satisfying.
Do you think you will always continue the seafood theme in O’Leary’s?Seafood will always be the basis of O’Leary’s because that’s what it was founded on. We will broaden our horizons a bit because not everyone wants seafood, although we have always offered other options. We have a new menu in the works, but will always stay true to our roots. We may offer a happy hour with some small plates, which can be more affordable than a large entree. We don’t feel the need to rush, so this will be a slow process.
What would you tell folks who want to own a restaurant?Make absolutely sure this is your dream, by working in lots of different positions in restaurants. It’s not as glamorous as it’s made out to be. You have to be “all-in” and married to the place, because if you leave for a break, it can all fall apart. You have to realize that restaurants need to keep [evolving if they’re] going to stay in business. There will always be competition waiting to take the customers.
What food ingredient are you most excited to cook with this year?I am trying to source Lion fish, which has unbelievably delicious flesh. It’s a predator in Florida waters. We try to be a good steward for the marine environment as it’s crazy how an invasive species can wreak havoc.
Recipe: Rock & Crab
Rockfish fillets with jumbo lump crab meat in a sherry Dijon cream sauce. We recommend serving with haricot verts and fingerling potatoes. As a home cook, you most probably don’t have the crab base, so make the stock and save most of it for a great crab soup!
- 1 1/2 pounds rockfish fillets
- 1/2 cup dry sherry
- 2 shallots, chopped
- 1 cup crab stock or 4 ounces crab base
- 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
- 1 quart heavy cream
- 1/2 cup whole grain mustard
- 4 ounces (1 stick) butter, diced + 2 tablespoons butter
- 8 ounces jumbo lump crabmeat
Add the sherry and shallots to a medium saucepan, reduce by half. Add crab stock (or crab base if you don’t have stock or for easy home prep) and white pepper. Bring to a boil and add heavy cream and whole grain mustard. Bring to a boil again and reduce heat to low. Stir in butter until melted; simmer 2 minutes or until slightly thickened. Gently stir in crab meat.
Meanwhile, season flesh side of fish with salt and pepper. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in large skillet on medium-high heat. Place fish skin-side down in skillet. Cook until the skin is browned and crisp, about 3 minutes. Flip the fillets and cook until flaky and white throughout, 3 to 4 minutes longer; transfer to a plate. Spoon the Sherry Dijon Cream sauce over the rockfish filets and serve.
Crab or Shellfish StockMakes about 1 quart
2 pounds picked-over crab shells (cracked or chopped) and /or crab bodies (cut into 1-inch pieces, carapace discarded; see Cook’s Notes), crab tomalley, and, if necessary, shrimp shells or lobster carcasses
- 2 quarts water
- 1 medium to large onion, coarsely chopped
- 1 to 2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- Kosher or sea salt
Place the crab bodies, shells, and tomalley (and optional shrimp shells or lobster carcasses) in a 6- to 8-quart stockpot and cover with the water. Bring to a boil, skimming the white foam from the surface of the stock. Reduce the heat so the stock cooks at a fast, steady simmer.
Add the onion, celery, garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns, and thyme, and let the stock simmer and cook down for about 1 hour. The liquid should just cover the crab shells as the stock cooks—if it doesn’t, just add a little water.
Season the stock lightly with salt. Taste for a rich flavor; if it seems light, simmer for about 20 minutes longer.
Strain the stock through a fine-mesh strainer. If you are not going to be using it within the hour, chill it as quickly as possible. Cover the broth after it has completely cooled and keep refrigerated for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to 2 months.