- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
It wasn’t even 11 a.m. on a recent weekday morning when co-owner and executive chef Rusty Shriver had to cut short a telephone interview to cook for a party of 20. Busy times have been a regular occurrence at The Lighthouse Restaurant & Dock Bar since it opened in February.
The restaurant sits on the lot that was the site of the Lighthouse Inn before it burned down in 2006.
Shriver and his brother Nick owned and operated Clarke’s Landing restaurant in St. Mary’s County for 16 years before a difference of opinion with the landlord in 2012 had them looking at a few locations, but Solomons Island stood out.
“The traffic over here is phenomenal compared to any place, unless you’re in a shopping center,” Nick said. “Especially compared to Clarke’s Landing there’s nobody down that road. The Lighthouse Inn had a great reputation, and we thought we had a good reputation, too. So for the money, this was the best option over anywhere else we’d been.”
The site has waited for a reopening for a long time, but good things come to those that wait. The restaurant has a bright, open floor plan and is decorated with fish mounts and enlarged photographs of the Gov. Thomas Johnson Memorial Bridge and Chesapeake Bay life by Joey Sikorski, a Calvert High School graduate, and Terry Quinn.
“We didn’t want it to be as formal,” Nick said. “We don’t want people to feel out of place if they wear shorts.”
A Sunday night visit began with rockfish bites ($12), small, hot crispy nuggets served with lemon and tartar sauce. Also available were a signature crab dip ($13) or crab dip pizza ($11), ahi tuna nachos ($14) and roasted red pepper hummus ($8).
The restaurant also offers Maryland crab soup, cream of crab and half and half, a mixture of the two ($5.50 for a cup; $6.50 for a bowl).
One of the diners in our party had the ultimate seafood platter ($36), which came with rockfish, scallops, shrimp and a crabcake.
Another opted for the signature pasta ($24) and was enthused by the pasta, cream sauce, bacon, scallions and chunks of shrimp and scallops.
I went turf on this evening and was intrigued by the bleu cheese, bacon and balsamic glaze burger ($12). There also is a crab dip, bacon and cheddar burger ($11).
“I love balsamic vinegar, so we did a balsamic vinegar reduction and who doesn’t love bacon?” Rusty said. “Hey, I just thought it would go so I put it together. Everybody has burgers but we have a variety of burgers that are creative and appeal to everybody’s palette.”
Rusty makes his burgers out of a custom blend of ground chuck, beef short ribs and beef brisket, for which he pays about $5 a pound.
“What happens is the flavor profile is exceptional, and it retains a ton of moisture,” Rusty said of the three-beef blend, which he said remains juicy even when well-done.
Despite it being her first shift, server Lauren Theesen was engaging, attentive and personable.
Rusty said the restaurant’s signature dish is its crabcake, which he said is composed of “100 percent jumbo lump crabmeat.” The restaurant also offers it two ways; original is a traditionally spiced crabcake while angry-style has a more bold spice profile.
“You can’t go wrong in Southern Maryland with a good crabcake, a great crabcake. Let’s put it that way,” Rusty said.
Quality is a recurring theme to the brothers.
“Really what we pride ourselves in with this menu and what makes this restaurant great and mine and my brother’s partnerships over the years is we are brothers,” Rusty said. “We do have ups and downs but he runs the front of the house, I run the back of the house, and we focus on quality. We buy quality no matter if it’s fish for our fish and chips all the way up to our filet mignon. Everything is top-notch quality, and really that’s the secret to our success. We focus on quality.”
The restaurant gets its shucked oysters from Avenue-based waterman Mike Hayden, while Simon Dean of Solomons is the supplier of oysters in the shell. The restaurant buys local fish and seafood whenever possible.
“We don’t buy anything in a jar and serve it,” Rusty said. “We make everything fresh. I’m an eater, and I don’t eat to live. I live to eat, and I don’t like normal everyday foods. I like things with a little bit of a twist. But keep it simple and give them quality, and I think you have customers for life.”
About half of the staff followed the brothers from Clarke’s Landing.
A giant tuna on a scale provides an outdoor photo op and Nick has booked a few bands for May. The restaurant has an outdoor deck that seats 180 while the restaurant and its upper floor can accommodate 410 diners, roughly twice the capacity of Clarke’s Landing.
“I don’t think we ever will [serve that many diners at a time], but we can,” Nick said.
And with great food and atmosphere the brothers might get a chance to do just that in the near future.