Review: The Chesapeake Ain’t What It Used To Be

My buddy Marty, who ate at the original “Chesapeake” restaurant thirty years ago, wondered why the new restaurant which opened in June/2013 used the same name when it obviously has nothing in common with the one that closed other than a shared location. It’s nothing like the original and, considering that the original closed over 25 years ago, chances are that most people 40 or under only connect the name with the long vacant building between the Charles movie theater and the train station!

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Much smaller than the original, it has a small, somewhat formal dining room and a large lounge with a long bar. In the lounge, windows allow for watching commuters or theater-goers passing by on Charles or monitoring cars in the train station parking lot.   Adjacent to the bar are small tables and larger half-circle banquette seating.  The lounge – even only partly full – was disturbingly noisy.   We were seated at a semi-circular banquette and had to huddle close together because the lounge dining area was disturbingly noisy (which didn’t bode well considering the place was barely 25% full with what looked like a largely hetero clientele.

The menu – not available online – is pretty limited.  Eclectic starters include some bar snacks ($4-$6 with pickled veggies, crostini, beer nuts, fried smelts, and hushpuppies) and pricier appetizers (chicken liver pate, charcuterie, clams steamed in Natty Boh, and Pork Belly paired with peach puree, cauliflower and peanuts).  Questionably, a $21 single crab cake is billed as a “hot appetizer”.   There are just two sandwiches ($15 burger and $12 Oyster “poor boy”), three salads (Caesar ($9), smoked rockfish ($12) and a garden salad ($12).   Eight entrees range from a $18 vegan tomato farotto (aka risotto) to a $33 New York strip steak.

We were taken aback by the prices and decided to start by sharing some of the cheaper appetizers:  hush puppies ($6) and beer nuts ($5).  The hush puppies were very good with a surprising hot, spicy bite with a complementary pimento cheese sauce; the nuts included some unexpected oyster crackers but otherwise were nothing special and could have been from a can of generic Giant supermarket mixed nuts.   For the main course, Marty opted for the Oyster Poor Boy (and learned that “bayonaise” is mayonnaise with “old bay”!), my friend Tom decided on the burger (which included his choice of cheese).  John tried the roasted chicken ($22) which had been touted by our personable young waitress as her favorite.

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Marty’s “Poor Boy” looked impressive with a half dozen fried oysters lined up on a bed of lettuce and tomato in a large “sub” roll and came with a heaping pile of hot fries; he liked it.  Tom’s burger (though it arrived well-done when he had requested “medium”) looked impressive but he said that it wasn’t anything special (particularly considering it cost $15 and that he’s had better burgers for a two thirds the cost or less.   John’s entrée included two chunks of chicken decorated with two roasted baby carrots, some black-eye peas and carrot puree.   It was eye catching but the chicken were plain (but at least not over cookedd and tasty); some carrot puree made for an unexpectedly good accompaniment.  The portion size seemed small for the price.

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I had read reviews on Yelp praising the rolls.  For $22, I thought I deserved rolls and cornered the waitress.  After a wait, an otherwise forgettable fluffy dinner rollappeared which was saved by some butter and by a totally unexpected accompaniment of  “made here” peach jam.  Service was attentive and friendly and enhanced our meal.

We chatted with the waitress about dessert and she really talked up the summer peach cake (Turned out that all desserts are $9 so we continued to economize and share one) .   It arrived with an inch square piece of “gooey butter cake” enhanced with some peach jam surrounded by slices of fresh peach with a scoop of “sweet corn” (Who knew? None of us had ever heard of this flavor before) ice cream.  It made for a surprisingly darn good desert and got a “Thumbs Up!” from all of us.

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Afterwards, we encountered unexpected lines at the one-man-at-a-time men’s room (Geez!  We wondered what would happen if the restaurant was busy instead of mostly empty?  The men’s room was really big and they could have put the throne in a stall and added a urinal but they didn’t)

Leaving the Chesapeake around 8 pm, it was barely a quarter full.  Right next door, “Tapas Teatro” was bustling and it looked like you would have had to wait for a table.  The striking contrast seemed easy to explain.  I’m guessing that “Date night” couples going to nearby “The Charles” or “Single Carrot Theater” aren’t eager to pay $50 (plus tax and tip) for a couple of nondescript burgers and beers and a single shared dessert at “The Chesapeake”.

If the new Chesapeake doesn’t wake up to the fact that it’s in artsy Station North rather than upscale Harbor East, we’re thinking that it will meet the fate of its defunct namesake in a year or two.

FACTS: The Chesapeake; 1701 N. Charles St.,  410-547-2760; thechesapeakerestaurant.com; Open 7 days a week for dinner 5- 11 pm; brunch on Sunday; full bar; Limited vegetarian options; on-street parking (no valet); / Visited August 13, 2013

The Chesapeake on Urbanspoon

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