Restaurant Review: The Canton Restaurant
Aug 15, 2017 10:26AM ● Published by Arden Haley
An Annapolis Institution for Half a Century
11 Ridgeley Ave., Annapolis, // 410-280-8658 // Thecantononline.com // Open Mon-Thurs 11 a.m.- 9:30 p.m., Fri-Sat 11a.m.-10:30 p.m., Sun noon-9:30 p.m. // Dine in or carry out. // Major credit cards accepted. // Handicapped accessible. // $By Mary Lou Baker // Photography by Tony Lewis, Jr.
What are the odds of a restaurant still thriving after more than 55 years? Slim to none. But the Canton is an example of how a family has made it happen.
Back in 1962, a man named Charles Wong closed his successful Asian eatery in Washington D.C., moved to Annapolis, and opened a restaurant called The Canton in an unlikely location on Ridgely Avenue. For many years, it was the city’s only Chinese restaurant and became a popular dining choice for residents and their families. Wong sold the restaurant in 1976, when its new owners re-named it “The New Canton.” Never as beloved as the original, it failed to flourish, and in 1994 Wong’s son Benjamin and daughter-in-law Lisa bought it back and have successfully re-established The Canton to its original status as a source of authentic Cantonese cuisine.
An illuminated sign in the window advertises its daily buffet, a true bargain at $6.50 that includes soup, tea, and an assortment of 10 to12 Cantonese dishes that changes daily. Three of us ventured inside the old-fashioned premises one noontime, where we were greeted and seated by one of the three Asian women on duty that day. One of them was Lisa Wong, a University of Maryland graduate who is a business-like woman, smiling broadly when I mentioned a mutual friend of Chinese descent who dines at The Canton most evenings.
A steaming teapot and small cups were brought to our table and we were told that a choice of soups (hot and sour, wonton, chicken egg drop, vegetable with bean curd, chicken noodle, or rice) was part of the daytime deal. My friends gave good marks to the wonton and egg drop, both of which were flavorful and grease-free. I found the hot and sour not to my taste – too thick (I prefer a thinner stock), while the Canton version is a favorite of my neighbor.
Quite a few folks were enjoying the buffet, which that day featured 10 hot dishes that included a delightful Orange Chicken in the chef’s special sauce, meaty chicken wings, outsized egg rolls, Chow Mein, and Egg Foo Young. A group of men from the nearby firehouse were enjoying each other’s company as well at the buffet, to which they returned for second helpings of their favorites. The atmosphere at The Canton is casual and conducive to conversation, with reminders of its ethnic origins in the handsome Asian light fixtures suspended from the ceiling. It was a positive experience as well as a true bargain. Understandably, there are no “doggie bags” at lunch.
My companion and I returned to The Canton for an early dinner on a Saturday night. The lights were dimmed, candles flickered in their tubular containers, and tables were dressed in rose tablecloths, plum-colored napkins, and fresh flowers. We were seated by the window wall that overlooks the parking lot below—finding the activity there an ongoing source of interest. Echoing the restaurant’s retro feel, I ordered a Mai Tai decorated with fruit speared on a wee umbrella and my companion sipped a Chinese beer. FYI, The Canton has a full wine and liquor license.
Sticking with the retro theme, we shared a generous selection of specialties on the Po Po platter ($9.95) - tender slices of beef teriyaki speared on wooden sticks, crunchy fried wontons, Chinese-style spareribs, tasty chicken wings teriyaki, and rotund egg rolls filled with shredded vegetables and shrimp—warming them on the flames from the little grill in the center of the round lazy Susan serving dish. We had forgotten what fun sharing can be—and marveled at the generous portions and multiple flavors.
Canton has a chef with experience at a prestigious Chinese restaurant in New York City who brings a high level of quality to Annapolis. His menu is amazing—and demands return visits to sample the enormous selection of seafood, beef, pork, chicken, lamb and vegetarian dishes on the menu. There is a restaurant garden, providing herbs, and vegetables to his kitchen—which has earned such accolades as “Best Health Conscious Menu” from a Guide to Best Restaurants in America, displayed in the Canton’s foyer.
We finally decided on entrees—mine a seasonally available lobster prepared Cantonese style that was very different from the simple steaming I grew up with in New England. It was, indeed, a Maine lobster, its shell carefully cracked to make eating every morsel an easy task. But I was not prepared for the creamy egg sauce speckled with pork that cloaked the crustacean. This, I was told, is the typical way lobster is prepared in parts of China; some people spoon the sauce over rice and enjoy it as a side dish. There are lots of other dishes I am eager to try on return visits—a Seafood Hot Pot (lobster, shrimp, scallops, and crabmeat simmered with Chinese greens), Peking Duck with Steamed Pancakes (no notice needed/available as half or whole), and other items too numerous to recite without readers dozing off.
My dinner companion on our evening visit was wide-awake when his War Bar, a chef’s special, was brought sizzling and aromatic to the table. Chunks of lobster meat, roast pork, chicken, and jumbo shrimp mixed with several kinds of mushrooms, julienned carrots, and Chinese celery in a savory sauce redolent of garlic and ginger were a rare treat. A sweet ending to the feast were house-made almond cookies enjoyed with the Canton’s tea.
We went home with a take-out order of the restaurant’s famous Canton Chicken (10.95), a whole bird that the kitchen marinates, roasts, bones, and carves before bedding on fresh-tasting Chinese vegetables. No wonder the restaurant’s carryout business is so brisk—the taste of roasted poultry predominated in a carefully packed serving that was enough for four. I am happy to recommend The Canton to fans of Chinese cooking and to those who want to experience fresh and beautifully prepared classic recipes and a warm welcome to a true family restaurant.