Wine & Spirits: Luscious Li-BAY-tions

Bloody Marys with veggie-infused vodka on a deck overlooking the water; flutes of Champagne on a sailboat at sunset; and cold beers with hot, steamed crabs are waiting on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
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Drinks on the waterfront deck are a perfect way to spend an afternoon in St. Michaels.

A couple of thirst and soul-quenching days recently in Talbot County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore left me longing for more time in “The Land of Pleasant Living.” But let’s face it: escaping to peace and tranquility from the DC Metro area can be less than relaxing, what with construction on the Beltway and weekend Bay Bridge backups. So is it worth it? Absolutely. If you are planning a weekend away in St. Michaels, Oxford, Cambridge or Easton, and (like me) you flee during a crazy Friday afternoon rush hour, a bevy of liquid options await—the surefire cure for the stress you leave behind on the mainland.

Enjoy a glass of sparkling wine on your private deck at the St. Michaels Harbour Inn.

Before exploring (and pouring), check into a waterfront room at the St. Michaels Harbour Inn (harbourinn.com, 800.955.9001). We loved sitting on our balcony with a glass of Vinho Verde, watching the action in the marina below. Equally fun is heading to the waterfront hotel pool–hopping on a recent Saturday afternoon with families, couples and groups of friends all soaking up the sun while enjoying an Orange Crush or Harborita—the hotel’s Pascal’s Tavern has a convenient walk-up window for pool guests, who happily imbibe while swimming (drinks seemed to be permitted/encouraged in the pool…)

For dinner, take a leisurely drive to the picturesque Tilghman Island Inn (tilghmanislandinn.com, 800.955.9001). We unknowingly but thankfully timed our reservation for sunset, and were treated to an orange- and pink-tinged end to the day. Don’t miss Executive Chef ‘s well-executed cuisine, like mussels sautéed with Andouille, tomato, garlic and white wine; and the soft shell crabs (get them while you can!), with a bottle of crisp Delaporte Sancerre. The restaurant also occasionally features a specialty cocktail—the night we dined we sampled a Blackberry Mint Julep. Window or outdoor seating might let you catch a glimpse of the Lady Patty sailboat cruising slowly by (ladypatty.com, 888.250.3030), which offers super fun (and romantic) Champagne Sunset Sails each evening in season from 6:30-8:30 PM, for $45 per adult.

The tangy, tantalizing Grapefruit Crush at St. Michaels Crab and Steakhouse.

For lunch, snag an outdoor table at the St. Michaels Crab & Steakhouse (stmichaelscrabhouse.com, 410.745.3737), located directly across the marina from the Harbour Inn. It’s been owned and operated by Philadelphia born and bred chef since 1994 (you can’t miss the Eagles, 76ers, Phillies and Flyers memorabilia that adorns the walls.) I’m a total crab purist, and usually steer clear of crabcakes on any menu, even if servers claim “there is no filler in ours.” But these were the real deal—I opted for the crabcake sandwich (broiled, natch), but didn’t go near the bun—the meat was just that succulent and rich. Just as deliciously intriguing to me were the patio-perfect drinks. Lesley’s Famous Bloody Mary mixes vodka that’s been infused with freshly chopped vegetables (head inside to see the big glass jug o’ juice steeping prominently on the bar,) garnished with a pepperoncini, olive and wedge of lime, and rimmed with Old Bay. It was fresh, savory, and the perfect accompaniment to Virginia Select oysters on the half shell. The Grapefruit Crush was a pleasantly surprising tart concoction made with Absolut Ruby Red Grapefruit Vodka, Triple Sec, fresh grapefruit juice and a touch of Sprite. I literally could have sipped those all afternoon…

If you crave a break from the ubiquitous seafood that’s available on the Eastern Shore (hey, it could happen,) walk to Ava’s Pizzeria (avaspizzeria.com, 410.745.381), a few blocks from the water in the cute downtown area of St. Michaels. But be warned: the restaurant does not take reservations, and on a busy summer Saturday evening we waited well over an hour for a table for four. See if you can snag a spot by the water feature on the lovely patio located behind the restaurant. Start with their paper thin, never greasy, couldn’t-ever-eat-just-one homemade potato chips, topped with Parmesan, Old Bay or bleu cheese, alongside a split of Piper-Heidsieck Brut Champagne. Then order one of their signature wood fired pizzas cooked in their oak-fired oven—we were partial to the Spinach and Artichoke Pie finished with basil oil, with a bottle of the 2006 Lucignano Chianti Colli Fiorentini.

All good weekends must come to an end. But before we were ready to once again  brave that bridge traffic, we needed one last crab fix. A quick Yelp search for great places in the area to pick crabs led us south on Kent Island to the Kentmorr Restaurant and Crabhouse (kentmorr.com, 410.643.2263) in Stephensville,

Grab a Mai Tai at Kentmorr's beachfront Tiki Bar.

where steamed blue crabs are available by the piece, half dozen or dozen. You can also partake (as we did) in the all-you-can-eat-feast (market price, which was $32.95 during our visit,) which includes crab soup, half a pound of steamed shrimp, corn on the cob, cole slaw and as many crabs as you can crack and devour (mostly mediums, but pretty darn good.) Wash ‘em down with an ice cold beer or Gin and Tonic. And if you have time and traffic’s not looking too bad (you can see the Bay Bridge from their deck), spend an hour or two on their private, bay front beach, swaying in one of their hammock swings and sipping a frozen drink from their thatch-roofed Tiki Bar. Ahhh…..

For more information about visiting Talbot County, visit www.tourtalbot.org.

Kelly Magyarics is a wine and spirits writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, DC area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com. Or on www.twitter.com/kmagyarics.

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