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Great eats across the Tri-State

February 04, 2008|By Savory Sam

The Savory Sams have sampled restaurants from Chambersburg to Shepherdstown in the past year. Some have been swanky places with beautiful decor; others were inexpensive, elbows-on-the-tables diners with formica tables. We have approached all with anticipation, because we never knew where outstanding food might be found.

And we found plenty of standout dishes. In this, the Sams' final review, we wanted to lift up just a few of the most memorable dishes we found from the past 15 months.

Appetizers

Appetizers are often-overlooked gems on a menu. They can show a chef's imagination and creativity.

Duffy's on Potomac in downtown Hagerstown is among the very best at inventive food presentation and creative appetizers. We had a scallop tempura - three lightly battered scallops were pierced like popsicles and standing artfully in three dollops of colorful sauce.

The Press Room in Shepherdstown, W.Va., wowed us from the first course. The paté plate was one of several exquisite appetizers - a rich liver-y slice served with crusty bread, cranberry sauce and delicious carmelized, balsamic-braised red onions.

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Corleone Ristorante in Martinsburg, W.Va., serves an antipasto that is just about as authentic as you can find this side of the Atlantic, with three kinds of sliced meat, excellent olives, dried tomatoes, asparagus spears and fresh greens.

Soups

The cream of crab soup at Antietam Café and Wine Bar in Sharpsburg was the best crab soup in the area. The smoky, peppery soup is rich and thick with a dollop of crab - yum.

The ceviche at Durango Restaurant in downtown Hagerstown is fresh and authentic. The raw fish stew had shrimp, calamari rings, bits of tilapia and tiny squid flavored with ginger, cilantro and plenty of lime to "cook" the fish.

The 1912 Hoover House in Waynesboro, Pa., has many outstanding dishes. But the butternut squash-yam soup was spectacular. Its combination of sweet and savory was like eating liquid pumpkin pie.

Salads

Stone Soup Bistro in Shepherdstown is another small-scale eatery specializing in fresh ingredients. Its salade Nicoise was superb, with a full plate of ingredients - Kalamata olives, roasted red pepper strips, crispy greens, hard-cooked eggs, cold, cooked green beans and seared tuna steak served over greens.

We tried a lot of Caesar salads in the area, and Duffy's on Potomac was among the best. The romaine was fresh, the croutons light and crunchy and the dressing flavorful. Long ribbons of Parmigiano-reggiano cheese added to the presentation.

Main courses

Dolce's in Hagerstown serves Italian and Eastern European dishes in a low-key, homey atmosphere. The Julia stuffed cabbage was good, stick-to-your-ribs food. The beef-and-rice-stuffed rolls were OK, but the bacon-flavored, chopped, cooked cabbage on the side was excellent.

The Lodge at Blue Ridge Summit had food and prices at the top end of Tri-State restaurant spectrum. Presentation and sauces get a lot of attention there. The rosemary-rubbed rack of lamb was perfectly prepared and artfully arranged, but the port wine-shiitake reduction sauce was eye-opening.

The mounded crab cake at James Buchanan Pub & Restaurant in Mercersburg, Pa., was one of the best we tasted. Unconventional in form - more a mound of loosely bound crab than a cake - it was moist and full of flavor.

Desserts

The Press Room's lavender-flavored créme brulée was light, custardy, not too sweet. A touch of lavender nicely balanced the sweetness.

I have never had a better tiramisu than that served at Corleone Ristorante. Each element of the multi-layered dessert - mascarpone custard, cocoa, chocolate ladyfingers soaked in coffee and amaretto - stood out yet worked together deliciously.

For a light, exotic dessert, we liked the ice cream at Laila's, a Persian lunch room and tea shop in downtown Hagerstown. French vanilla ice cream was served with a spoonful of rosewater and a scattering of chopped pistachios. Different, but good.

Vegetarian food

Stone Soup Bistro prepared terrific tofu-and-mushroom skewers served over beluga lentil tabouli. The shiitake mushrooms were tender and smoky, the tofu melted in the mouth, and the tiny lentils resembled caviar.

The 1912 Hoover House served the best fettucine Alfredo we found - perfect noodles and creamy, flavorful sauce.

Savory Sam is a pseudonym for a Herald-Mail staff member who reviews restaurants anonymously to avoid special treatment.

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