Restaurant Review: Carrol’s Creek Cafe
Sep 04, 2017 12:00PM ● Published by Arden Haley
410 Severn Ave., Annapolis • 410-263-8102 • Carrolscreekcafe.com
Monday - Thursday 11:30 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Friday & Saturday 11:30 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Sunday 10 a.m. - 8:30 p.m.
Deck dining in season. Reservations recommended. Complimentary parking. Major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible. GF logo identifies gluten free menu items. Half-price wines on Tues. Happy Hour with half-price appetizers in bar only, 4 p.m.-closing Mon-Thurs, 4-7 p.m. Fri, 5-8:30 p.m. Sun.
Celebrating The Annapolis Scene Since 1983By Mary Lou Baker
When the sun is shining, so is Carrol’s Creek Café. This longtime local favorite is a good bet year-round, but hits its high point in good weather, when both indoor and deck tables are in demand. This family restaurant has a history dating back to 1983—denoting longevity based on many good recommendations. The reins were seamlessly passed from founding father Joseph Jacobs to his son, Jeff, who had worked at the restaurant as a teenager. Jeff took over as the “head guy” shortly after graduating with a business degree from Towson University and is a hands-on boss who puts on an apron when the kitchen gets crazy-busy.
Standing tall on the team over the years has been longtime Annapolitan Richard McClure, who manages the day-to-day operations as well as being Carrol’s Creek Café’s secret weapon when it comes to spirits. “Richard has been our wine guy for years and recently added a great list of craft beers to our menu,” says Jacobs. “We like to keep our patrons happy,” said the ever-modest and reliable McClure in a post-visit phone interview.
Reliability is the watchword of the café’s success story: the quality of the fare at lunch, dinner, or the café’s popular happy hours has remained predictably high over the years. While perfection may be the aim, it is an elusive goal and on occasion there are misfires. I am thinking here of the current selection of small plates—one of the restaurant’s strong points in terms of variety and portions. Longtime executive chef Ricardo Bello, who started as the café’s line cook, has a taste for Asian and Mexican flavorings that is reflected on the menu. He loves cilantro and adobo, featuring the former in a sauce for a lamb rack and foisting the heat of adobo on an otherwise tasty shrimp salad. On a review visit, I wanted the lamb, but not the cilantro. No can do, said our server.
That was the only hitch in an otherwise flawless dinner for four that began with appetizers of rice-flour dusted and lightly fried calamari, paired with a pungent smoked chipotle sauce; the café’s excellent broiled crab cake made with jumbo lumps of Maryland crabmeat and an artistic swirl of mustard vinaigrette; and the restaurant’s version of cream of crab soup. On other occasions, I have raved about the soup but on review night the house specialty arrived lukewarm and sticky instead of silky. I apologized to the recipient, having insisted she try it. Full disclosure: the “she” in this story is my daughter, a vegetarian “foodie” who prefers “cooking in” to “dining out.” However, she gracefully replied she was happy with her house salad of raspberries, dried cranberries, walnuts, and fresh baby greens lightly moistened with a tarragon-raspberry dressing.
She was also soothed by the friendly service and delighted with her choice of the chef’s creative styling of a mushroom risotto served in a roasted acorn squash “bowl” capped with a broiled Portobello.
Our dinner was a family affair, with one son sharing his generous “small plate” of crisp fried calamari accompanied by sides of bold smoked chipotle and assertive tamarind sauces. Another (reluctantly) shared Carrol’s Creek’s famous signature dish: seared day boat scallops crisscrossed with thin ribbons of phyllo and nested on steamed spinach, crab lumps, and slivers of prosciutto ham in a velvety shrimp sauce. One can dine happily—and amply—on a few of the kitchen’s small plates—sharing if you choose, so everyone receives a variety of tastes and is served a chance to chat about each and every one of them.
Carrol’s Creek’s kitchen takes care that their main courses ($21-$34) are prepared with an eye to variety, color, and freshness. That evening, a roasted rockfish fillet rested on a flavorful risotto and was partnered with baby spinach and lumps of jumbo crab in a classic wine-butter sauce. A hefty (14-ounce) New York strip steak arrived as ordered (medium rare) and napped with a lovely Madeira wine glace. Mashed potatoes escaped being boring with seasonings of bacon and chives and the accompanying green beans were fresh and tender. The recipient, an inventive home cook, appreciated the simple goodness of his meal.
Even if you are chickened-out, Carrol’s Creek revives your palate with its colorful combination of sautéed chicken breast tossed with onion, chopped tomato, several kinds of mushrooms, and pancetta and linguini in a marsala and rosemary cream sauce. That was my choice of a main course, after a super-satisfying appetizer of the café’s excellent crab cake. There’s a lot of variety on the menu here, where lunch is a bargain and the outdoor deck a gorgeous setting.
Carrol’s Creek celebrates its 34th anniversary this year—a record in the restaurant business that speaks louder than words. Cheers to many more!