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O'Brien's Oyster Bar and Grill

Written by Gilles Syglowski , for What's Up? Magazine: Annapolis

History permeates 113 Main Street, currently home to O’Brien’s Oyster Bar and Grill; it has seen over 200 years of Annapolis evolution. Built in 1774, the site was originally the Rose and Crown Tavern, where revolutionaries and royalists met. But O’Brien’s has much more history. In 1836 it became Sam’s café, the only dancing establishment in Annapolis at that time. Later, it was home to some notable firsts: right after World War II, the first pizza pie was introduced in Annapolis at LaRosa Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge; in 1964 it was the city’s first dinner theater. It was not until the 1970s that it became Fran O’Brien’s (named after a Washington Redskins defensive player) and the menu focused on steaks and seafood. In 1993 Jerry Hardesty, owner and operator, renamed it O’Brien’s Oyster Bar and Grill.

After Allison seated us and provided us with our refreshments, we ordered our first course. One of my guests found many of his favorites on the menu. So we were not shy and promptly began our feast. The cream of crab was delectable: old fashioned, thick and tasty, and richly garnished with lump crab. The seafood tower is a treat: a variety of appetizers from the menu, elegantly presented. It consists of scrumptious Annapolis bruschetta (garlic toast topped with crabmeat, artichoke hearts, and imperial sauce), crisp and tender fried calamari served with a chipotle aioli and plum sauce, two freshly baked oysters Rockefeller, and two clams casino. The Mediterranean bay scallops were sautéed in olive oil, garlic, fresh basil, and oregano, with grape tomatoes, red onion, and mushrooms, they had wonderful flavors and the scallops were very tender. As a palate cleanser, we shared a wedge iceberg lettuce salad dressed with cucumber, carrots, onions, bacon, and blue cheese dressing. It was a crisp and tasty way to make the transition to the main course.

The menu overall is quite well designed. It does take attention to please all the guests in such an operation. Whether you are looking for something substantial or just something to accompany your beverage, the menu offers a variety, from classics to more adventurous. Our small party tried its best to cover that span with our entrees.

First, of course, we had to try the fish and chips. Not pretentious, rightly battered, and perfectly fried to a golden crisp, these were an enjoyable dish for the lighter side. On the more substantial side, the center cut sirloin teriyaki was outstanding: a very tasty and tender cut, basted with a teriyaki sauce, grilled to our request. I would definitely recommend it for beef lovers. Our third entrée was the Chilean sea bass: a very fresh and delicate filet, baked, and served on a bed of mixed greens and snow pea shoots, topped with bay scallops in a sweet chili and raspberry glaze. Overall it was well prepared and good, although the unexpected, slightly higher raspberry note hid the flavor of the fish. Perhaps that is a matter of taste.

Finally, for dessert—yes, we still had a little room for that—two fantastic crèmes brûlées and a scrumptious berry bread pudding; a soft and warm pillow of yumminess. The wine list is modest, but with a taste for everyone and a number of quite exciting names. My companion enjoyed a glass of wonderful Monrosso Chianti. Wines are very trendy these days; I would say that O’Brien’s Oyster Bar and Grill has composed a wine menu that really fits its atmosphere. Donnie, the manager, said, “We want people to enjoy the food, the entertainment, and have a good time.” Well, Chef Chris Giddins, at the helm of the kitchen as he has been for many years, did a fabulous job for us that evening. I would say, “Mission accomplished.”

Dining Out: At O'Brien's, Expect Seriously Good Food

By Terra Walters for The Capital

Thanks to Mother Nature and the "media"-rologists, the evening of our dinner at O'Brien's was one of those fabulous ones in which the words November and balmy can be used in the same sentence.

As our group converged upon the long-established Main Street restaurant and watering hole, the discussion was about what we felt like eating for dinner. One of those decisions was to be made in an interesting manner.

Here's the story: As we were seated, we noticed a solitary female seated at a table nearby. She was enjoying a cocktail and seemed perfectly at ease dining alone. She wasn't reading a book, she wasn't chatting on her cell, she wasn't fidgeting and she didn't seem to be agonizing about where to look or what to do with her hands.

Kudos to that amazing woman! If she is reading this, she should know that all of us were in awe of her and admired her greatly as we shared tales of getting take-out, ordering room service, sitting at lunch counters and even skipping dinner to avoid eating alone in a restaurant.

Just as our own drinks were arriving, we noticed her entree being served. She was having prime rib. Bingo, decision made. The question about what to have for dinner had just been answered.

As we relaxed and enjoyed our drinks, we talked about how long we've been coming to O'Brien's, and each member of the group had been coming there since it was Fran O'Brien's, restaurant venture of the noted Redskins defensive lineman of the same name.

Even though it has been a local favorite for many years, not everyone knows the rich history associated with O'Brien's. The building was built in 1774 and opened as the Rose and Crown. Eventhough we were still an English Colony, the seeds for revolution had been sewn. As the First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia, this Annapolis tavern was a meeting place for both Royalists and Revolutionaries alike. Now, more than two centuries later, people still enjoy going to this venerable downtown landmark to be fed, "watered" and entertained.

Long a favorite for members of our party, the crab balls ($13.50) were the clear-cut choice for a shared appetizer. Let it not be forgotten, though, that the full name of this establishment is O'Brien's Oyster Bar and Restaurant, so work some oysters into your meal irrespective of what else you order.

Oysters on the half shell ($8 for six, $14 for a dozen) are always a good bet at O'Brien's as are the Oysters Crisfield ($8.25), in which the oysters are dressed up with crisp bacon, lump crab and melted cheddar.

One good way to sample several ways this kitchen shines when it comes to preparing oysters? The Oysters 5 Ways ($16) that includes oyster stew, Oyster Crisfield, Oyster Casino, Oyster Fritters, and Oyster Nachos. Even though this is billed as an appetizer for two, it makes a super entree as well. For some strange reason, the oyster stew isn't listed in the soups section of the menu - just Maryland crab, French onion and the ubiquitous cream of crab.

If you're accustomed to the little heavily breaded and usually greasy chunks that often pass for crab balls, you're in for a real treat with these. These succulent lump crab balls will melt in your mouth; but be warned that they tend to fall apart when you eat them, so try them on one of the yummy crackers that accompany, along with homemade cocktail sauce and tartar sauce.

No sooner had we finished wolfing down the crab balls than the entrees arrived.

One member of our party had decided on the Open Faced Crab MacClusky ($14), a felicitous combination of Jumbo Lump

Crab Imperial and Swiss cheese, toasted on a generous slice of Italian bread. With sandwiches and wraps, diners may choose between chips or fries, but we'd recommend the fries. After all, you can buy chips anywhere and these fries are better than average (available as Boardwalk fries for $4 on the list of side dishes).

The diner who could usually be counted upon to go for O'Brien's grilled salmon ($20) went counter to type and ordered the center cut sirloin ($22) that was outstanding. Grilled perfectly, it came with a creditable bordelaise sauce and two choices from the list of potato and vegetable side dishes (all entrees include salad from O'Brien's well-stocked and varied salad bar).

O'Brien's offers dinner specials and the diner who had already decided on prime rib selected the evening's special preparation over the more traditional prime rib cut available on the regular menu. The Chesapeake prime rib ($27) was a bountiful serving, topped with more of that divine crab imperial and accompanied by a baked potato and a nice vegetable stir-fry. As is always the case when we go to O'Brien's, we all got two meals for the price of one as everyone walked out with sizeable leftovers.

O'Brien's is like many other similar establishments in that they do a big bar business, have an active happy hour and have nightly live entertainment. Unlike many others, they also take food seriously. The menu is a full-service one and offers several beef, seafood and pasta entrees in addition to their raw bar, their burgers, their sandwiches and salads, and their lighter fare items.

In keeping with their restaurant focus, O'Brien's has an attractive wine list with some interesting choices of wines by the glass as well as good prices on the wines by the bottle. Red wine lovers might look for the Parker Estates Pinot Noir ($32) and white wine aficionados might try the Bethel Heights Pinot Gris for $29.

Some desserts are made in house and some are brought in. Go for the Oreo Pie ($4.25) which was, by the way, the choice of the lone lady who had dined at her leisure and was ready for coffee and dessert.

As we enjoyed the end of our meal, once again pleased with food and drinks and service, we mused that O'Brien's just might be around for another 200 years.