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Make Food the Focus of Your Next Escape

Some Mid-Atlantic Restaurants Are Destinations on Their Own

There are two types of people in this world — those who eat to live and those who live to eat. If you fall into the latter category, you may find yourself planning trips not around what to see but where to eat. And in some cases, a restaurant may warrant being the entire focus of the trip, with any sightseeing along the way a mere bonus.

So whether you find yourself making the trek over the Bay Bridge for some sun or retreating to the mountains in search of tranquility, here are a few restaurants worth seeking out along the way.

THE BAY

Inn at Easton
28 South Harrison St.
Easton, Md.
(410) 822-4910; (888) 800-8091
Distance from D.C.: 1.5 hours

Located in a renovated 1790 Federal mansion, the Inn at Easton has gained national attention by marrying an unexpectedly cosmopolitan feel with small-town charm. Vibrant colors and clean lines play nicely with the inn’s original molding and hardwood floors.

But the inn’s restaurant is what really put it on the map. Chef Andrew Evans, who owns the inn with his wife, cooked in some of Australia’s top restaurants during a seven-year stay there, and that influence is evident on the menu. It may be one of the few places where you’ll have the chance to try seared Australian kangaroo tenderloin. The menu, which changes every three weeks, also reflects seasonal ingredients from the local area — Chesapeake fried oysters are a menu mainstay.

If simply enjoying the food isn’t enough, the chef holds occasional cooking classes at the inn, priced to include dinner and a weekend stay.

Jimmy Cantler’s Riverside Inn
458 Forest Beach Road
Annapolis, Md.
(410) 757-1311
Distance from D.C.: 45 minutes

The sound of mallets cracking crab shells and the spicy scent of crab seasoning greet guests at this hard-to-find spot nestled on a residential street near Annapolis. Thorough directions are a must, but at the end of what feels like a wild goose chase is a quintessential crab shack, where long picnic tables are covered in brown paper and crowds intently pick meat from piles of freshly steamed crabs. If the wait’s not too long, try to score a seat on the back deck, overlooking the lazy waters of Mill Creek.

Crabs are the main attraction, though clams, shrimp and oysters also warrant attention. Buckets of canned beer and ears of steamed corn are the only other necessary components for a well-rounded meal.

The Coast
Back Porch Café
59 Rehoboth Ave.
Rehoboth Beach, Del.
(302) 227-3674
Distance from D.C.: 2.5 hours

This quirky restaurant, tucked in a turn-of-the-century beach house, is credited with revolutionizing the dining scene in Rehoboth. Opened in 1974, the Back Porch Café still serves an eclectic menu including entrées such as venison filet with celery root vichyssoise, roasted halibut with morels, spring peas and fiddlehead ferns, and roasted guinea fowl with ricotta gnocchi. Sunday brunch offers fresh baked scones, herbed scrambled eggs, pan-fried fish cakes and baked pancakes with mascarpone cheese.

With funky art and photos covering the walls, the cluttered space is inviting and casual with plenty of outdoor seating on the back deck for warm summer nights. (Note: The Back Porch Café reopens for the summer season April 30.)

Dogfish Head Brewery
320 Rehoboth Ave.
Rehoboth Beach, Del.
(302) 226-BREW
Distance from D.C.: 2.5 hours

There are more reasons than beer to visit this brewpub by the sea. Boasting a wood-burning grill, the kitchen at Dogfish Head turns out grilled fish, pizzas and burgers that are a cut above typical bar food. A “walk the flank” pizza comes with sirloin steak, caramelized onions and red and green peppers, and the “scrouille andouille” is topped with sausage, black beans, roasted garlic, corn, mozzarella and red peppers. Main dishes include wood-grilled rockfish, filet mignon and jumbo crab cakes.

The brewery is also a great place to hear live music on the weekends.

But don’t forget the main attraction. From the flagship Shelter Pale Ale to the darker Raison d’Etre and the best selling 60-Minute IPA, beer aficionados delight in the diverse offerings from this award-winning microbrewery.

THE COUNTRY
The Inn at Little Washington
Middle and Main streets
Washington, Va.
(540) 675-3800
Distance from D.C.: 1.5 hours

Washingtonians should consider themselves lucky that the fabled Inn at Little Washington lies a mere hour and a half away — many people travel across the country for the extraordinary experience of dining at the inn. Its long list of accolades includes being rated one of the 10 best restaurants in the world by the International Herald Tribune.

The man behind the magic is self-taught Chef Patrick O’Connell. His cooking is sophisticated yet accessible and often pays homage to regional ingredients. Paper-thin Virginia country ham is combined with local pear, arugula and pine nuts in a satisfying first course, and braised oxtail pairs beautifully with caramelized vegetables and celery root purée.

A distinct sense of humor runs throughout much of the menu. Pepper-crusted tuna is “pretending to be a filet mignon,” and the cheese course is wheeled out on Faira, a playful cow-shaped cart.

The standard four-course menu is $118 per person, excluding beverages, tax and gratuity. The chef’s tasting menu, a series of eight or so smaller courses, is $158.

Four and Twenty Blackbirds
650 Zachary Taylor Hwy.
Flint Hill, Va.
(540) 675-1111
Distance from D.C.: 1 to 1.5 hours

What originated as a small bed and breakfast with a popular 12-seat dining room eventually motivated owners Heidi Morf and Vincent Deluise to look for a dedicated restaurant space, and in the spring of 1990, Four and Twenty Blackbirds restaurant was born. The restaurant makes a nice stop after a day’s drive in the country with its offerings of housemade breads, pastas and ice cream, local organic produce, and grass- and grain-fed meats. The frequently changing menu recently included pecan-crusted wild rockfish, Louisiana gumbo, grilled beef tenderloin and naturally raised, oven-roasted chicken.

With a new brunch menu each week, you may want to consider starting your day at the restaurant as well. Brioche french toast, shrimp and lobster frittata, pan-fried trout and lemon griddle cakes are just a few examples of the dishes guests have to look forward to.

THE MOUNTAINS
Lot 12 Public House
117 Warren St.
Berkeley Springs, W.Va.
(304) 258-6264
Distance from D.C.: 1.5 to 2 hours

The nation’s first spa town, Berkeley Springs attracts visitors seeking rejuvenation from massages, steam baths and dips in the natural flowing mineral water. But even the most relaxed traveler needs to eat.

After feeding your soul, feed your appetite at this contemporary restaurant, located in a restored 1913 house perched on a hill in downtown Berkeley Springs. Guests can dine on the grand porch or in the elegantly simple dining room. Local chef Damian Heath’s menu reflects Northern Italian inspiration with dishes like sea scallops topped with mozzarella, sage and prosciutto and sautéed baby eggplant with herbed goat cheese risotto.

Hotel Strasburg
213 S. Holliday St.
Strasburg, Va.
(540) 465-9191; (800) 348-8327
Distance from D.C.: 1.5 hours

Located in the oldest settlement in the Shenandoah Valley, the quaint Hotel Strasburg has served as a destination for weary travelers for nearly 90 years. Whether you’re seeking dinner or an overnight stay, the hotel’s proximity to the entrance of Skyline Drive makes it possible to see the Shenandoah’s scenery either way.

The hotel and guest rooms are appointed with Victorian antiques and flowery wallpaper, and the ornate dining room sets the backdrop for hearty meals and friendly service. The menu encompasses seasonal entrées of seafood, veal, pork and chicken, and special touches such as a tableside Caesar salad for two.

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