Oxford, MD – Nestled on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, the Town of Oxford may be diminutive (its population numbers less than 1,000), but its charm, big heart, and character are anything but. Add to the list a small but select group of dining venues – called “fantastic” by Yachting magazine in 2011 when naming Oxford as the World’s Best Yachting Town – and it all adds up to a dream destination. Here’s a culinary tour of this delightful waterside town.
Beginning at the foot of North Morris Street, the town’s main drag, just across the street from the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry dock, the historic Robert Morris Inn offers not just one but three dining venues. Overseen by renowned chef-owner Mark Salter (with long-time manager of the Inn at Perry Cabin, Ian Fleming), the cuisine was deemed “inspirational” by The Baltimore Sun for “helping native flavors speak for themselves.” Salter’s Tap Room & Tavern is a lovely setting for casual, atmospheric all-day dining. When the weather is fine, the Tap Room provides table service on the patio as well. A few items from a recent menu: Smoked Eastern Shore Bluefish Pate with Lemon and Croustades; Robert Morris Inn Barbecued Pork Sandwich with Cucumber and Red Onion Pickle and Old Bay Chips; and White Chocolate and Oreo Cheesecake with Chantilly and Mixed Berry Sauce. The Dining Room and Tred Avon Private Dining Room, housed in the original 1710 public rooms, offer Mark’s signature dishes and an array of vintages young and old for dinner. Both menus are refreshed regularly to take advantage of Maryland’s bounteous offerings from farm, field, and water. Open year-round
Schooner’s Restaurant, housed in a renovated oyster shucking shack dating to the turn of the twentieth century, is located just across the street. With a deck overlooking Town Creek, this festive venue offers down-home Maryland food with fine finishes and an emphasis on fresh seafood – Travel+Leisure named it to the “America’s Best Waterfront Seafood Shacks” list in 2011 and Coastal Living named it one of the “Shore Bets” for dining on the Eastern Shore this year. Open for lunch and dinner, its selections include satisfying fare such as crab cake sliders, steamed mussels, hearty soups, salads, burgers, and similar fare. Locals and visitors alike love kicking back on the deck, taking in the view, chatting with the friendly wait staff, and devouring steamed crab and shrimp with corn on the cob. Boaters take note: dock-and-dine is a great option. Open mid-April through the end of October.
Another great option: hanging around for dessert. Visitors would be well-advised to walk ten feet or so to the shop-within-a-restaurant that is The Scottish Highland Creamery, owned and operated by Victor Barlow, a native of Scotland, and his wife Susan. Once a well-kept secret, it was voted “Best of the Eastern Shore: Best Ice Cream” by What’s Up! magazine readers in 2009, 2010, and 2011 named Small Business of the Year by the Talbot County Chamber of Commerce. The creamery offers hand-made ice cream, frozen yogurt, and sorbet – Victor makes 600 varieties, so you never know what will be on offer on a given day – using local ingredients, fresh milk, cream, and flavorings imported from Italy. Sorbets are lactose free, and there are always sugar free and gluten free ice cream and/or sorbet choices. Sprinkles and other adornments also abound. Susan not only pulls yeoman’s duty serving customers; she also finds time to create truffles and write novels. One of the pair’s favorite treats: tempting kids to try something new and different. Oh, yes – samples are freely given, and although the creamery is closed from November to March, Victor caters family and business events, not only with ice cream but ice cream cakes too.
Pope’s Tavern at the historic and romantic Oxford Inn, located at the other end of Morris Street from the Robert Morris Inn, offers a casually elegant dining experience with a setting and menu inspired by a European bistro. Chef Lisa MacDougal uses only the freshest ingredients to produce fare such as fig ravioli, crispy shrimp, and flounder française. There’s also a bar menu that includes mac and cheese and meatloaf, and the wine list is extensive and sophisticated, as one would expect from a bistro. (As noted by The Washington Post, the inn “decorates its seven bedrooms a la country comfort, but its restaurant is much more city sophisticate”; Washingtonian finds it to be a “gourmet haven.”) Once again reflecting the warm and welcoming nature of Oxford’s residents and merchants, the Inn recently procured a genuine London Black Cab (a 1958 Austin FX3, to be precise) dubbed the “Pope’s Mobile” to ferry revelers to and from their boats, rental homes, and other destinations. Open year-round.
The Masthead at Pier Street Marina is another waterside restaurant with a view so gorgeous it was used as the setting for a scene from the film “Failure to Launch” and Coastal Living named it as one of its “Shore Bets” for dining on the Eastern Shore. A “Boatload of Onion Paddles,” seared tuna, or Thai-flavored fried calamari starts things off on the right foot, while main course salads are creative and satisfying (the Sweet Corn Vinaigrette is not to be missed), soups are traditional and delicious, and sandwiches and wraps hit the spot. But there’s more! Steamed crabs, clams, mussels, and shrimp as well as fresh fish tempt those who love the fruits of the sea and bay, while turfy types have a range of options, including steak and barbecue. The bar area is welcoming and spacious, as are the indoor and covered deck dining areas, and talk about service – co-owner Wendy Palmer has been known to ferry boaters from the dock to the restaurant. Open mid-April through October.
For an opportunity to mix with locals while enjoying delicious grown-up cuisine, diners are directed to Latitude 38 Bistro & Spirits on Route 33, the road leading into town. Adorned with murals painted by a local artist, with a fireplace, linen tablecloths, and candlelight in the main dining area and contemporary fittings in the newly renovated bar area, this hopping spot is helmed by Masthead owners-operators Gretchen Gordon and Wendy. The menu includes unique Chesapeake-influenced bistro options, as well as delightful main course salads with sophisticated finishing touches and pub, pizza, and prime rib nights. A welcome and thoughtful option: smaller versions of the elegant dinner entrees, available in both the main dining room and the bar. Also appreciated is the interesting and well-priced wine list. Transportation to and from all Oxford marinas is available. Open year-round.
Visitors lucky enough to be staying at The Ruffled Duck Inn (with a blend of traditional and eclectic décor) and Combsberry Inn (an English country manor home with a carriage house and cottage) also will experience gourmet innkeeper-prepared breakfasts and other treats, as will those enjoying the hospitality of the Oxford Inn and Robert Morris Inn. Guests of the Sandaway B&B can start the day with light fare breakfast bites delivered to their doorways, then walk across the street for brunch at the Taproom & Tavern. Nichols House (a private carriage house cottage for two with a tranquil garden) has a kitchenette but also puts out a continental breakfast basket.
Oxford’s inns all have lovely porches and patios, perfect for enjoying a late-afternoon bottle of wine and snacks from the Oxford Market on Morris Street. For picnics, visitors can supplement their grocery haul from the market by visiting the Oxford Farmers Market. Held every Wednesday evening in season, the special guests and live music are as “fresh, local, and homemade” as the produce and art.
With dining options like these, it’s no wonder visitors return again and again … and more than a few have decided to join the citizenry of this tiny but terrific town.
Feasting in Oxford, Maryland: there’s something for everyone, all year ‘round
About Oxford, Maryland:
The historic town of Oxford, Maryland, founded in 1683, is located in Talbot County on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay. Until the American Revolution, Oxford was an international shipping center, surrounded by tobacco plantations and home to a number of prominent national figures. Later it thrived on oyster harvesting and packing and other watermen’s trades, even as tourism and leisure activities increased. It guards its peaceful personality, architectural integrity, and small-town virtues to this day, while warmly welcoming visitors from right next door and around the world. The Oxford Business Association welcomes inquiries by telephone (1-410-745-9023) and at its website (www.portofoxford.com); and the Talbot County Office of Tourism offers comprehensive information and trip planning services at its Easton office (1-410-770-8000) and on its website (www.tourtalbot.org).
Carlyle Fairfax Smith