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Dining in St. Mary's County

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I'll be in Leonardtown mid-day Saturday - does anyone have any good, informal places they can recommend in Leonardtown or the St. Mary's County area? I don't mind driving 10-20 extra miles.

If there's fresh, local seafood in a downscale setting, that would be ideal, but I'm up for anything and everything.



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Joe H   

A month ago we were set to go to Cafe des Artistes in Leonardtown and, for whatever reason, ended up at the Dry Dock in Solomons Island. Great outdoor ambience (if it is warm enough to sit outdoors) with very good amaretto shrimp. But, overall, not worth driving the 11 or 12 miles to. Having said this, Solomons Island is interesting and worth exploring. Stoney's has an excellent restaurant on Broome Island road (off route 4 halfway or so between Huntingtown and Solomons), but our experience at their Solomons restaurant was not as good. At the time I researched Leonardtown but couldn't really find anything that intrigued me. Cafe Des Artiste seemed to be the best at the time.

Having said all this if the weather is partly cloudy and in the mid '60's I would give serious consideration to Stoney's on Broome Island road. It's been two or so years since we've been but we loved the place. They also have a floating (yes, floating) outdoor deck that you can eat on. GREAT crab cakes (once upon a time was the best in area by the Post), cream of crab soup, outstanding cole slaw and serious in house cake and pie. On the water. Literally. A great MD seafood restaurant we have driven from Reston specifically to go to.

How far is Prince Frederck? The owners of the original Jerry's in Seabrook moved there and opened Jerry's Place which has become a new legend.

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A month ago we were set to go to Cafe des Artistes in Leonardtown

I was actually just across the street from Cafe des Artistes (which is in the heart of "old" Leonardtown). Having several hours to kill, I did a little research, and find myself typing this in Ridge, Maryland, about a 25-mile drive from Leonardtown. On the way, I passed through St. Mary's City where I'll probably visit on the way back (they've really built this up as a tourist attraction).

My destination was Courtney's, which has been open since 1955. As I cut west and wound closer to the water, the road ended, and I found myself in front of an impossibly romantic cinder-block building, completely desolate and empty to the point where I wasn't sure it was even open.

I walked into a dark, empty restaurant, staffed by one, single person: a brusque, no-nonsense lady who is probably Asian, or part Hispanic, or both (I'm guessing she's Filipina). Yes, they were open, and no, she wasn't going to serve me any seafood. It was 10 AM, and they were serving breakfast only.

I pleaded my case, saying that I came "all the way from Virginia" (which, in retrospect, is silly since Virginia is right across the Route 301 bridge). She was adamant that she couldn't turn the deep fryer on until about 11:30, and that made perfect sense. I (politely) pressed further, saying that if she could just pan-fry or broil me something fresh, that would be perfect.

"What do you want?" she asked.

"Whatever is fresh and good," I answered. "Sea Trout, Sea Squab, Rockfish - whatever you think."

"What do you want to drink?"

"A Diet Coke."

"Here you go," she said, handing me the soda.

Fifteen minutes later, I heard the deep fryer roaring, and yes, I felt guilty. Julie (to whom I introduced myself and thanked profusely) appeared with deep-fried White Perch ($11.99), french fries, a grilled roll, tomato slice, orange wedge, pat of butter, and tub of tartar sauce. These breaded, deep-fried strips of white perch could have come straight from Le Bernardin, as far as I'm concerned. They are not fancy at all, but they are excellent - fresh, well-battered, beautifully fried. And she did it all as a special order - a favor for a stranger who she'd never seen before, and who she'll never see again. A classic case of a person with a faux-gruff exterior hiding a heart of gold.

You want to come to Courtney's for one thing, and one thing only: fresh seafood, and in particular I would order the Fried Local FIsh Platter ($18.99 at dinner, you can also order it broiled and I suspect they'll serve it at lunch if you ask) that might contain sea trout, flounder, bluefish, white perch, rockfish, sea squab, or croaker. The french fries are excellent, but of course not worth a special trip to Ridge.

I'm pretty sure that I'll always remember this meal, not because it was "so great," but because a special moment was made out of nothing - I am so glad I came to Courtney's. Thank you, Julie.

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