Saturday, June 13, 2015

Meal Enhancement

With apologies to Fanfarlo, I've been driving for twelve hours now and ending up in the same place.

It wasn't intentional.

Tuesday I'd made plans to go to Merroir with Pru tonight. Wednesday I'd gotten a couple of short but labor-intensive assignments due today. Wednesday night I'd heard from a friend that he was driving to Annapolis to sail for the weekend, planning to lunch today at Captain Billy's on 301 along the way. Knowing my assignments would be finished by then, I suggested meeting him in Pope's Creek for lunch.

When I got home that night, I found three more short but labor-intensive assignments. Did I want them? Yes. Was I going to finish them by Friday, too? Unlikely. I got an extension through the weekend.

That's how I found myself driving up Route 301 today to have lunch with a man who'd left an away message on his work phone saying, "Sailing the bounding main."

Arriving at Captain Billy's, I was surprised I'd arrived before he did and disappointed when they said that there was no outdoor dining today. But part of the restaurant is over the Potomac and we had a tiny table tucked into a corner by the windows, with a view of not only the bridge we'd just crossed, but boats and water.

"I've never noticed this place when I'm crossing the bridge," he observed about the proximity of the bridge. I hadn't either, but who really wants to look around when you're crossing a  bridge bounded by Jersey barricades? It just doesn't seem all that sturdy. I know a guy who drove over it in a snowstorm and was scarred for life. That bridge terrifies him.

But from a short distance, it was a picture-postcard view.

The paper placemat contained a lesson on how to enjoy steamed crabs with diagrams and instructions that involved using a spoon or knife to clean off the area under the shell. Give me a break. If you need a tool to eat a crab (beyond a mallet for the harder shells of claws), you did not learn to eat crabs in Maryland.

My knife was as pristine when I left the table as when I'd arrived. 'Nuff said.

He insisted the Maryland crab soup - touted on the menu as low in fat and full of vegetables -was the best thing on the menu, so we ordered a bowl to share. And it was good but less a bowl of vegetable and more a bowl of starch with peas, limas, corn and potatoes holding up enormous hunks of lump crabmeat.

I'd considered getting the crab salad cold plate but woke up and realized it would be foolish to drive an hour and a half to a crabhouse and not eat crabs. And by eat, I mean pick, so I asked for a half dozen.

Seven arrived (I didn't challenge their math) and I dove in, even using my superior picking skills to aid my friend, handing him claws sporting backfin lollipops. Meanwhile, he'd ordered a hot crab melt, essentially warm crab under cheddar on an English muffin. It was a lot of crab on that table, not that I'm of the opinion you can ever have too much.

I wanted to applaud when a woman at a table near us requested to her server that the frigid air conditioning be dialed back from sub-zero to something that allowed us to feel comfortable yet summery. No more summer sweaters ever!

Our server, a veteran of nine years at Captain Billy's, checked on us frequently, but we didn't need anything more that what we had. I heard about the sailing plans, the spots on the eastern shore they'd visit and his plans to detour through Solomon's Island for the scenery.

Most impressively of all, he pulled out a crisp Maryland map to study as he devised his route. Map reading is a lost art, one I admire when I see it being done.

By the time we finished eating, we were both stuffed to the gills and looking at drives of over an hour, although in different directions. "You enhanced my lunch," he said gallantly before taking me to the far end of the auxiliary parking lot to see a historical marker about John Wilkes Boothe called dramatically, "Journey Into Darkness: Story of an Assassin."

Coming back over the bridge, I looked back and sure enough, there was Billy's low-slung red building on the banks of the river. I guess it had been there in plain sight all along.

The drive back was some kind of hot, I felt covered in crab spices and sweat and far too many Sunday drivers lolly-gagged on 301, but I eventually got back so I could get cleaned up for another road trip.

It wasn't enough that I'd had breakfast in Richmond, Virginia and lunch in Pope's Creek, Maryland because I had plans to enjoy dinner in Topping, Virginia at Merroir. We arrived just shortly after the Friday dinner rush madness began to abate, as evidenced by our young server showing up looking slightly stressed, saying, "I'm just catching my breath."

We insisted he take a deep one, let us ask him some questions in order to buy him some down time and not to worry about giving us speedy service. His smile showed his appreciation after the craziness and our Cave de Pomerols Picpoul de Pinet was delivered far sooner than was required.

After he left to assist the more demanding, we admired the seascape to our right, a scene of moored boats, many masts and the perfection of the evening colors on the river. It looked like an old Dutch master painting, the clouds and water streaked pink in front of the boats.

Pru doesn't do raw so I slurped Old Saltes solo before we shared an orgasmic plate of angels on horseback, baked oysters swimming in a pool of herbed butter under a blanket of Edwards ham. I drank the butter our of each shell, but Pru is far too much of a lady to slurp (all those years at boarding school), kindly pouring her butter on the remaining oysters.

Given the seafood orgy my day had become, there seemed to be no reason not to order steamed spiced shrimp and as with my crab picking companion earlier, my superior shrimp peeling skills made me popular with my date. I not only do the driving, I make the food mouth-ready. Who could ask for anything more?

Pru could and what she wanted was another batch of those angels on horseback to accompany more wine now that dusk had set in. It was her first time at Merroir and I could see she was firmly under its spell. It may not be as rustic as it used to be (or as I wish it still was) but its charms are still considerable, especially with a light wind blowing off the river.

A s'mores doughnut - pound cake doughnut, marshmallow cream, chocolate sauce and graham cracker crumbs - was the inevitable conclusion to our meal (because it was the only chocolate option), or so it seemed until Pru ordered a bottle of Rose to sip with it and take home, iced by our charming server for the road.

Unlike Boothe, my journey into darkness involved driving home, where the first thing that occurred to me was that I'd spent five of the past twelve hours driving. The second was that I'd had a boatload of seafood today, all of it stellar.

Should I have been home finishing those assignments to make a last minute deadline? That's what Saturday is for. My away message (as if I had one) might have said I was "doing research in two states." So there.

But, man, "sailing the bounding main" sounds way better.

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