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Washington Spy is worth a second look

August 24, 2003|by E.T. MOORE

Getting inside Washington Spy is as unique as the atmosphere and food that awaits beyond its doors.

The restaurant faces Antietam Street, a few steps from the back door of the Washington County Free Library. But there isn't a front door. To find the entrance, you have to walk or drive down an alley to the back of the building.

The Washington Spy, under new ownership since May, is in what was once the Greyhound Bus Terminal. The flavor and feel of the bus station is still there in the white cement block and stucco walls. In the rear section of the restaurant, the black and red floor tiles are probably the same ones bus travelers walked across.

The rear section is where more casual dining and the smoking sections are located. There are black formica-top tables and painted wooden booths. Decor in this portion of the restaurant centers around prints and posters, as well as shelves of empty wine and beer bottles from a variety of microbreweries.

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In the front of the building, facing Antietam Street, are the main dining rooms. Here, there are hardwood floors and wooden tables. The decor is original art from a local artist. Large picture windows offer a glimpse of Antietam Street.

It is not the atmosphere that draws customers. In this restaurant, it is the food and the service.

On the night my dining companion and I stopped in, the manager was filling in for a missing waiter. That turned out to be good luck for us.

The manager, Michelle, was friendly and helpful. She offered us a four-page list of wine and beer selections. Without looking at it, I asked for a well-known domestic beer.

Nope. Most of the drinks here are not so well known.

I could get a Bass Ale from England for $3.75 or a Harvey's Christmas Ale for $7.75. There was Cantillion Iris vintage 1998 from Belgium for $23.99 or Pripp's Carnegie Porter, vintage 1997 for $8.99. I recognized the Corona from Mexico ($3.75) and the Heineken from Holland (also $3.75). Michelle asked if she could recommend a beer and I accepted.

From the list of domestic microbrews she suggested a beer called Magic Hat, the Hocus Pocus blend, for $3.75 because, she said, it was a good, light summer beer. I took her advice and enjoyed the bite of this microbrew.

For appetizers, my companion and I shared Neopolitan Crostini, slices of Italian bread layered with Cappicola ham, fontina cheese, garlic, plum tomatoes and basil. I am a bread freak - it is my absolute favorite thing to eat - so I couldn't wait to sample this dish. I could smell the garlic and basil before the plate reached the table.

The tomatoes were fresh, the cheese creamy and the ham spicy, but it was the garlic that gave this simple appetizer its overall punch. And I do mean punch. Don't eat this if you don't want to taste and smell garlic for an extended period of time. But if that doesn't bother you, it's a definite plus on the menu.

We could have moved on to a wide selection of calzones, pizzas, burritos, burgers, chicken or sandwiches. Instead, I was in the mood for an entree. All of them involve pasta of some fashion, and all of them - two pages on the menu - sound interesting.

Here, again, I took Michelle's recommendation and had the Chicken Fra Diavolo, which is strips of chicken breast with garlic and spices in a tomato sauce over fettuccine ($10.95). My companion ordered the Shrimp Pesto, which is shrimp sauted with garlic basil pesto and tossed with cream and angel hair pasta with Parmesan cheese (the regular size for $9.25).

The entrees include a salad, and the plus here is that many of the dressings are homemade.

What stood out in my entree was the taste of fresh tomatoes. You can tell instantly a fresh tomato from one that comes from a can or is winter-grown. The pasta was prepared well and the chicken certainly was good, but the tomatoes in the sauce made this dish.

My companion's Shrimp Pesto was so rich he couldn't finish it. But he, with some help from me, certainly tried.

And finally, there was dessert. Again, having Michelle waiting on us was a plus. My companion and I were debating which homemade dessert we would share - the chocolate mousse or the Italian Cream Cake. The cream cake had coconut in it, which I do not like, so I was pushing for the mousse. Michelle settled the argument by suggesting that we order the cake and she would bring me a taste of the mousse. Since she was the maker of both, she wanted us to try both, she said.

That's what we did. I did sample the cake since cream cheese icing is a favorite of mine. Excellent, even with the coconut. The mousse was even better - fluffy with a rich, deep chocolate flavor.

A stop at Washington Spy is worth your time, and your wallet won't feel unduly pinched afterward.

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