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Back in the day, Oakwood Lodge near Piney Point was an icon in St. Mary’s County. The old log structure was noted not only for its beautiful setting on the shores of the Potomac River, but for its outstanding food. Founded by Frank Toth, his son Rick became the chef and when you went there to eat dinner at the river’s shore, you could always depend on having a fine meal. Then came Hurricane Isabel the storm which took out at least a half-dozen waterfront eateries in Southern Maryland and Oakwood Lodge was no more.
Fast forward to 2012. Chief’s in Tall Timbers does not have the alluring scenery that Oakwood Lodge was famous for, but they do have its former chef, and that’s saying a lot.
Chiefs was once known as Schaefer’s store in its early history. In 1978, David and Andy Dent’s father purchased the business. The former Senior Navy Chief had worked there since 1964 and it seemed only natural that upon his retirement he would purchase the former store.
“In 2010, my dad got sick, so I came back to help run the store,” David said. “Andy has worked here for more than 30 years. He’s famous for his stuffed ham. We actually shipped some this year to North Pole, Alaska.
He added, “We’d always had a deli here. We’d have lunch sandwiches, pizza and were really always remembered for our cheesesteak. My dad passed away in 2010, so I came back and started working here full time. Rick [Toth] was hanging around all the time and started helping us out with some appetizers. I caught him handing paper bags out the window where people were starting to buy his food, so we started into a full-blown menu. In the fall of 2010, it slowly started progressing toward becoming a restaurant.
“We started out with four or five banquet tables,” Dent noted. “So if a couple came in, they would sit at one end of the table and if other customers came in, they’d be sitting there at the same table. The customers would all be sitting there together. Everyone was talking to each other. Even now, with separate tables, you’ll always see everyone talking to everyone else.”
Dent pointed out that his brother Andy cuts all of the steaks in the store.
“It’s all good, quality beef,” he said. “Andy grinds up all the beef daily for the hamburgers. He and Rick do all of the work.
“We’re preparing to upgrade our menu,” he pointed out. “The menu is really varied. We do an excellent cheesesteak and pizza. We have really good seafood. Our stuffed ham is known far and wide. I always tell people we have the second best stuffed ham in the world next to your grandmother’s.
“Rick and Andy do a great job,” Dent added. “When it comes to having to prepare meal, you don’t have to do anything but order it.”
Our only disappointment at our recent excursion there was when we ordered stuffed shrimp and stuffed flounder the two specials for the evening they had already sold out.
“We had prepared 30 crabcakes before the evening rush and we were sold out of them by 7:30,” Dent said. This particular Saturday rush was “a little unusual,” he admitted. “Usually we’re slammed on Friday nights so we were surprised that we had such a huge crowd tonight.”
Without the night’s specials to draw from, my partner ordered the fried oysters instead and I opted for the “Cowboy Steak,” listed on the menu as “Andy’s 20-ounce T-bone steak.” I have to say, ordered medium-rare, it was grilled to perfection. Along with fresh horseradish and a side of zucchini, squash and rice, it was, as my brother would say, “some pretty fine chomp.”
Their menu offers something for everyone and their prices are extremely reasonable. A frequent patron informed me that he had recently ordered the fish and chips, which is usually flounder, but this particular night it was rockfish and by the time he filled up, there was plenty left to take home.
Chief’s is not a fancy restaurant by most standards, but eating there won’t kill your wallet and the food is outstanding.
“This is the first restaurant I’ve ever worked in where I’m not afraid to go out and meet the customers,” Dent said. “Other places I’ve worked, I would groan when I had to go out on the floor and talk to everyone. It’s really gratifying to be able to walk out here and have people thank you for their meal. That’s a great feeling.”
Chief’s: Your Neighborhood Bar
44584 Tall Timbers Road, Tall Timbers
Hours: 4-9 p.m. Mon-Fri; Noon-9 p.m. Sat-Sun
Prices: Appetizers from $1.79-$15.99; Soups and salads from $3.99-$11.99; Sandwiches from $7-$13,99; Entrees from $11.99-$19.99
Contact: 301-994-0772; www.WJDENT.com; www.facebook.com/pages/Chiefs-Your-Neighborhood-Bar/
Credit cards: MC, V, D, AE