Maryland’s capital deserves more than a daytrip

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By Jordan Wright (Photo/Jordan Wright)

Although Annapolis is only a hop, skip and a jump away, I thought it would be fun to go beyond the usual daytrip and include some nightlife, wine life and time on the Chesapeake Bay.

To that end, I booked a couple of nights at the recently redecorated Annapolis Waterfront Hotel. Now part of Marriott International’s prestigious Autograph Collection, known for its spectacular portfolio of luxury hotels around the world, the hotel reflects a decidedly contemporary nautical air with stunning rooms overlooking the town’s main harbor.

As the only hotel overlooking the waterfront, its central location allows visitors to walk to shops, restaurants and historical attractions. Travelers will be pleased to know the hotel still provides all the benefits of the Marriott Rewards program. Boaters will love that it has its own dock.

Another convenience is the hotel’s on-site Pusser’s Caribbean Grille with its luscious lump crab cakes, Sunday brunch and lively weekend bar scene. Named for the 350-year- old West Indian rum brand, Pusser’s rum-based drinks are delicious and potent.

Snag a bottle of their newest release, Gunpowder Proof, from the Pusser’s Company Store. This 109-proof dark rum has only been available state- side since this summer.

When booking your accommodations be sure to inquire about the hotel’s special partnership with the U.S. Naval Academy. The “Exactly Like Nothing Else” package allows overnight guests an opportunity to dine at the Alley Restaurant in the historic wood-paneled Officer’s Club. Dining at the club is an exclusive privilege normally reserved for Navy families.

SIGHTSEEING

No visit to Annapolis is complete without a trip to the U.S. Naval Academy located in the heart of town. It’s an easy stroll along winding brick streets. Our knowledgeable guide Mike Zitzman was a veritable font of information, regaling us with curious back stories and little known facts on the history of the 338-acre property.

Did you know that during training, each cadet must wear a water-filled fanny pack? This new regulation was implement- ed to ensure cadets remain hydrated while practicing drills. Another intriguing factoid: The Navy has more pilots than the Air Force, but not more aircraft. And the Army has more boats than the Navy because the Navy calls them ships.

On the expansive tree-studded campus, many of the buildings, including the dormitories that house more than 4,000 students, are open to the public. Check out the museum at Preble Hall for naval art, antique model ships and salvaged artifacts.

Then tour the awe-inspiring Main Chapel to see the largest pipe organ in the United States and marvel at the magnificent Tiffany stained-glass windows.

Beneath the chapel is the crypt and marble sarcophagus of Commodore John Paul Jones, the celebrated Revolutionary War naval hero. The campus also provides for worship in the Levy Center for midshipmen of the Jewish and Muslim faiths.

Book this special guided tour through the hotel and your guide will meet you in the lobby, or drop in at the Armel-Leftwish Visitor Center. For more information, go to www. navyonline.com.

A three-mile drive from town is Great Frogs Winery, a century-old former tobacco farm with placid views of the rolling countryside. Located beside the Chesapeake Bay, its rustic tasting room is attractively housed in a former tobacco-drying barn.

This lovely winery is run by Californians Nathaniel and Andrea O’Shea, who grow a wide variety of grapes in the sandy Maryland soil. If you’re lucky, you may get to taste an exceptional aged port, straight from the barrel. Great Frogs (www. greatfrogs.com) is a fine place to while away an afternoon over delicious, locally sourced cheese and charcuterie.

Getting out on the water is part of the adventure, and there are a number of options to choose from. If you’re a fan of standup paddleboarding, the latest form of exercise is yoga on SUPs.

Head over to Capital SUP (www.capitalsupbiz.com) to see professional paddleboard racer Brian Meyer. His boathouse is situated on Spa Creek beside his stepfather, filmmaker Barry Levinson’s beautiful grey-shingled home.

If you prefer a captain at the helm of your ship, go big — 74-foot double-masted wooden schooner rigged with four sails big. From the hotel’s docks, catch the breeze on The Woodwind and take a two-hour cruise on the Chesapeake Bay.

Several themed tours are available during the season, so check the website at www. schoonerwoodwind.com for upcoming events. If you’re staying at the Annapolis Waterfront Hotel where the ship docks, be sure to ask for the special “Room and Sail” rate.

When the sun goes down, there’s plenty of entertainment nearby. Plan ahead for the hottest musical acts at the Ram’s Head Tavern — we caught The Temptations. Or head to the Infinity Theatre Company. A 15-minute drive from town, it features New York theater and children’s shows.

Also check out the Compass Rose Theatre, Colonial Players, Annapolis Opera, Ballet Theatre of Maryland and the Annapolis Shakespeare Company for their latest listings. For tickets and more info on these venues visit www.ramsheadtavern.com, www.infinitytheatre.com, www.thecolonialplayers.org, www.compassrosetheater.org, www.annapolisopera.org, www.balletmaryland.org and www.annapolisshakespeare.org.

DINING

Annapolis has always been tops in seafood restaurants, and many of us come here for fresh Maryland blue crabs, rockfish and oysters harvested from the world’s largest manmade oyster reef.

Go for fish and chips at the laid back Galway Bay Irish Pub (www.galwaybaymd.com), head to the seafood-centric Carrol’s Creek Cafe (www.carrolscreek.com) for fine dining — reserve ahead for a waterside table — or Blackwall Hitch (www.theblackwallhitch.com), whose latest outpost is now riverside in Alexandria.

Thanks to some insider tips, we made our way to Preserve (www.preserve-eats.com), a rustic modern outpost for canned, pickled and fermented vegetable dishes from Restaurant Eve alums Jeremy and Michelle Hoffman. Jeremy informs his cook- ing through his Pennsylvania Dutch background, elevating homey small plates to a modern sensibility.

Start with a few of his tangy- sweet pickled offerings. The relish dish features Old Bay turnips, bread and butter green tomatoes, BBQ carrots, Bloody Mary celery, soy ginger daikon and beets lavished with dill weed. Any of these will pair with cold season fare, when fresh vegetables are out of season and heartier dishes can be enhanced with a touch of acidity.

Next, set your sights on some tweaked out starters like kimchi or minced pork lettuce wraps with peanuts, cilantro and red onion. The servings are small, so you’ll want to order a few things.

The menu lists a number of meat dishes to choose from (the house-made liverwurst called to me). And vegetarians will delight in discovering the oyster mushroom po’boy, but I savored the Pennsylvania Dutch chicken pot pie with its golden crust.

Take home a jar of Jeremy’s Cabbage Alley line of raw, vegan and gluten-free ferments — sauerkraut, kimchi and curtido.

The iconic and much beloved Chick and Ruth’s Delly — not deli, though it certainly is one — is a four-generation establishment that is the be-all-end- all of Jewish delis and after all these years is still going strong (www.chickandruths.com).

Why? I’d say it’s because they don’t skimp on friendliness, food or quality. The waitresses are cheery, the platters are heroic and the homemade pies are legendary. With 24 flavors to choose from, the pie menu alone is testament to Chick and Ruth’s patriotic commitment to freedom of choice.

As a popular hangout for Maryland’s movers and shakers, politicians and celebrities’ photos line the walls going back to the 1960s. There’s even a table reserved specifically for the governor of the day.

Townsfolk will tell you that every newly elected governor has come here and stood beside both locals and out-of-towners to salute the flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance on their first day in office. You can participate in this unique observance when it is recreated every weekday morning at 8:30 a.m.

Though featured on the Travel Channel’s “Man vs. Food” for the restaurant’s six-pound milkshakes and a three-pound Super-Duper Colossal cheeseburger, we nonetheless settled for something far less challenging. After all, it was breakfast and though breakfast, lunch and dinner are available all day, a cheeseburger in the morning wasn’t exactly what we had in mind.

My advice? Go for the Belgian waffles with homemade fruit toppings or smoked salmon with all the accoutrements served on an epic house-made bagel. Or try the Maryland lump crabmeat omelet. You can never eat enough Maryland crab.
A particularly ravenous member of our group bit the bullet and happily chowed down on a duet of pork chops with creamy grits and hash brown potatoes. Savvy travelers will take home one of those splendid pies and a dozen bagels.

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