W is for Worth the Drive
Captain Billy's · Captain John's · Cantler's Riverside Inn · Gabler's · Baugher's Family Restaurant · Rudy's 2900 · Olney Ale House
With all due respect to the place of blue crabs in local legend, we sometimes like to hitch up the wagon and hit the highway for our hardshells. Outside the city (and away from the tourist trade that pays top dollar to experience a "real Baltimore crab feast"), the crabs are usually cheaper and often (sorry) better. At least once a season we day-trip down to the far reaches of Charles County to satisfy our jones. Captain Billy's (Pope's Creek Road, Pope's Creek,  932-4323), about a two-hour drive down Route 301, is a huge, chaotic, and crowded crab palace with a spectacular view across the wide Potomac and the most consistently excellent steamers we've found anywhere in the Chesapeake region. If the wait's too long there, trek another half-hour south to Captain John's (Route 254, Cobb Island,  259-2315), which has a more serene setting (overlooking a marina on Neal Sound) but similarly high-quality crabs.
For the slightly less ambitious crab seeker, there's Cantler's Riverside Inn (458 Forest Beach Road, Annapolis,  757-1311), a little less than an hour south of the city, and Gabler's (2200 Perryman Road, Aberdeen,  272-0626), about an hour north. The former has perhaps the region's prettiest setting for waterside dining, in thick woods along peaceful Mill Creek; the latter has fine cream-of-crab soup and riverside tables for your bashing and picking.
During the summer and early fall, people head up to Baugher's, a Carroll County institution, to pick their own fruit. But the owners aren't just growers; they also run Baugher's Family Restaurant (289 W. Main St., Westminster,  848-7413), a diner that owes more to country cooking than a rail-car-style greasy spoon, serving up hearty portions of farm-fresh American food. Save room for the flaky- crusted, fruit-a-licious pie, which is worth the long trek trip to the exurbs all by itself.
Of course, Carroll County cuisine isn't all about going down-home. You'll find sophistication on the hoof at Rudy's 2900 (2900 Baltimore Blvd., Finksburg,  833-5777), where the cookery is Continental. Meaning you can sup on the likes of pheasant, duck, and innovative seafood creations in a sumptuous dining room that belies the restaurant's side-of-the-road location.
Back in the day, the Olney Ale House (2000 Olney Sandy Spring Road, Olney,  774-6708), was a rough-and-ready roadhouse in the country. It wasn't unusual to see a pack of Harleys parked out front. Thanks to the proliferation of vinyl-wrapped tract houses, Olney (about 45 minutes west of Baltimore) isn't exactly the country anymore, and the venerable Ale House is more refined than rough. Folks of all stripes come here for fresh-baked oatmeal-molasses bread, an interesting array of micros on tap, and an eclectic menu featuring everything from burritos to free-range chicken to shrimp cakes. And in clement months, the whole toothsome operation spills onto an outside patio. The Ale House is actually way too cool for Montgomery County, but then, it makes a nice excuse to slip off I-95 and explore our dwindling rural back roads.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201