Delectable Pieces / Matt Ward – Understated and Simply Delicious: The Wharf


It doesnt have to be expensive and it doesnt have to be fancy.

We had hoped to check out the new Bookbinders Restaurant in Old Town (on the site lamentably vacated by Portners).  Unfortunately, Bookbinders doesnt begin serving until 4 p.m. on Sunday, and three and a half hours seemed too long for a starving quartet to wait.

Already tasting seafood in our minds palate, we wandered along King Street, sweltering in the pre-storm sauna, until the Wharf menu caught the eye of one of our party.  It had been years since any of us had eaten at the Wharf, so we thought wed give it a try.

We entered the 18th-century building, moving from the scorching heat into a long, cool room, subtly lit. We were seated immediately and remarked that the booths with a table that measured about two by four feet seemed better suited to a ship. The ships wheel mounted on the wall over us suggested that we might be onto something.

Nineteenth-century maps of East Coast harbors hang on an ancient brick and stone wall, and exposed rafters date the building to before the 1790s.

Service was prompt and efficient, and we enjoyed the Bloody Mary perfectly seasoned with what seemed to be Old Bay but, like the menu, it was seasoned finely enough not to overpower the flavor of the drink.

Lunch prices were as easy to digest as the food. The most expensive of our choices, the Norfolk combination, was $14.95. Lightly seasoned and secured in a pool of drawn butter, the Norfolk includes perfectly cooked shrimp, scallops and Maine lobster meat. (The dinner menu includes lump crab instead of scallops.) Offered with a choice of side dishes, our combination worked perfectly with its saffron rice partner.

The house salads were pleasant and fresh, but uninspired. While we appreciated the raw mushroom slices (some of us did, anyway), the lack of onions dismayed those of us with Gallic ancestry.  The house garlic mustard dressing seemed bland to most of our party, although one pronounced it, doggone good.

One of the younger members of our foursome ordered the jumbo shrimp with garlic butter, which she pronounced delicious. The large shrimp were firm and flavorful.  The crusty bread that accompanied the meal proved the perfect medium to swab up the excess garlic butter and make our arteries take notice.  It was worth it.  (We have a personal prejudice against chilled butter, although the struggle to spread it probably burns off some of the calories it adds.)

The French fries that accompanied her garlic shrimp were perfectly executed, fresh tasting, hot and sufficiently delicious for her teenaged brother to exclaim So long MacDonalds; I know where I am going for French fries from now on. A cultural victory.

For his part, the young man steadfastly followed teenage boy tradition with a thick, juicy, half-pound bacon cheeseburger (Do teenagers know they have arteries?) that disappeared quickly enough to bear silent, swift witness to his appreciation.

The spiced shrimp, our fourth entre, was perfectly spiced and swimming very slowly, mind you in a pool of butter. The cold horseradish and cocktail sauce on the side made the contrast of textures, temperatures and flavors a sublime experience.

Although we had the smaller lunch portions, dessert seemed to be a challenge, so we shared the classic New York cheesecake (This cheesecake is yummy in my tummy) and chocolate bread pudding, both excellent choices. The bread pudding, though, bears more attention.

I like bread pudding the way Momma used to make it but often it tastes more like a microwaved sponge with lemon glaze than dessert. This steaming specimen was light and delicious, shot through with melted chocolate. To say that bread pudding is light seems oxymoronic, but there is the leaden, sodden version and this angelic one. The steamy rich pudding is complemented by vanilla ice cream drizzled with caramel.

The Wharf provides uncomplicated and delicious fare seasoned gently enough to add interest without overpowering the essential flavor of the food it is meant to enhance.