Dock Street Bar & Grill has been one of the staple watering holes in the downtown area for almost 12 years. Not only does the menu reflect the true spirit of Annapolis, serving up the best crab cakes and beers you can find, even the building is imbued with real historical Annapolis charm. Way back in the day it formerly served as the town jail but now has a new kind of rehabilitation to offer.
As the owner Mike Wroten explains, “Beer tastes the same everywhere. The difference is the vibe you create.” Nothing could be truer of this casual, local spot. The support for the local community is everywhere; from the autographed Navy football jerseys, to the hand-painted letters that read ‘proud to serve those who serve,’ to the Police Unity Tour jersey that hangs on the wall at the upstairs bar.
The staff itself permeates a sense of community as well. Small and tight-knit, they help provide that unique “vibe” that Mike mentioned. During my visit on a bright, beautiful day, Brandi Cahn was behind the bar. She was busy as can be expected on a nice day downtown, but still gave me the kind of individual attention that would speak otherwise. Similarly, Chef Fred Malinis was exceedingly accommodating even during the rush of lunchtime.
Fred was treating me to a couple fantastic summer specials that day. Individually, they make the perfect light bite, but put together they make a smashing combo for any hot summer day.
The first was the Grilled Local Asparagus Special. Dock Street gets their asparagus (along with their tomatoes) locally from Diehl’s Produce of Annapolis. A handful of this fresh, beautiful vegetable got tossed in olive oil with salt and pepper and grilled for three to four minutes. Then it was topped with a lemon and thyme gremolata (Japanese bread crumbs, butter, lemon zest, fresh thyme, fresh parsley, salt, and red pepper flakes) along with shaved parmesan and broiled.
After the breadcrumbs and cheese were crisped and melted to perfection approximately thirty seconds later it was plated and topped with an in-house made garlic aioli (roasted garlic, extra virgin olive oil, and egg yolk). This aioli pulled the whole dish together and I wished I could have had a whole vat of it. Fred explained the key is the roasted garlic that gets cooked in oil afterwards and gives it a caramelizing effect. “It’s almost like confiting it; nothing leaves and it doesn’t dry out. The natural sugar in garlic is what makes it turn the color it does”.
The second special was the Cipriano Special, named after its creator, Chef Cipriano, which was equally as simple and sublime as the first special. Local tomatoes (from Diehl’s Produce) were sprinkled with crumbled blue cheese, scallions, and sliced basil, and finished with a balsamic glaze. The tomatoes from Diehl’s were so fresh and flavorful that they needed little to no dressing up – just what Cipriano capitalized on.
The last special was the show stopper for me. I might be a little biased since I happen to be a huge gazpacho fanatic, but Fred’s gazpacho was spectacular through and through. I could just taste those beautiful local tomatoes in every spoonful, along with the red and yellow bell pepper and cucumber. The garnishes of celery leaf, cilantro, parsley, a little nugget of slow poached roasted garlic, and of course the crab meat tossed in Old Bay, lent an incredible flavor profile to every bite. I can say with certainty that for any true gazpacho lover the Gazpacho Special at Dock Street is truly a treat.
I’ll be just as sad to see these specials go as I will when it’s time to say goodbye to summer. For now, though, I’ll be happy to soak up the sun and these fresh summer dishes for as long as I can. Furthermore, I can always take solace in the fact that summer specials or not, there’s always Dock Street’s star item, a crab cake served with an in-house made whole grain mustard tartar sauce. Their shrimp tacos and crab chowder are also personal favorites of mine.
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So, come get a taste of Annapolis and sit at one of Dock Street’s outside tables with an iconic view of Ego Alley, or catch the same view at the tables on the second floor where you can host parties for up to 30 people seated or 50 people for cocktails. The second floor also doubles as a dance floor on Friday and Saturday nights. DJ Dirty Panda will keep the tunes playing Thursday through Sunday from 9 to close, and the kitchen stays open till 1 a.m. every night.
Like the staff and regular patrons of Dock Street say, “I’ll do one,” which may sound easy and harmless until you find out it really means “drink like a champion”.
Photography and videography courtesy of Christian Smooth