- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Waterside bars and restaurants are a dime a dozen in Southern Maryland, but the Port Tobacco Restaurant appears to stand out among its brethren.
The restaurant is out of the way but occupies a fantastic spot on the shores of the Port Tobacco River.
As I relaxed on the upper deck — the lower deck has several picnic tables — I watched as baitfish eluded a predator in the shallows while a great blue heron soared across the waterway.
“It’s like no other,” general manager and operating partner Mike Mona Jr. said of the unparalleled view. “I go to a lot of restaurants when I go to Ocean City and Annapolis, but we [seem to] have more of a natural setting.”
But the view isn’t the only reason to visit the restaurant. The food is pretty darned good, as well.
On the advice of server Olivia Clayton, I decided to have seafood as an appetizer and a burger as my main course (“The Southern Maryland-style surf and turf,” Mona said).
The mahi nuggets ($7.99) were chunks of white meat lightly breaded and fried and served with a Thai chili sauce.
“They get that mahi filet and shave it all off and clean it up,” Mona said. “Nine times out of 10 it’s going to be all white meat. We do our best to serve the freshest stuff.”
Mona said the Thai chili sauce was the brainchild of experienced cook and fry guy Daniel Costello.
“We went back and forth with the sauce for those nuggets, and that was the best,” Mona said of the sauce, which I ordered a second helping of.
Other appetizer choices include bacon scallops ($9.99), wings ($9.99) and a crab pretzel ($9.99), that was a pretzel topped with crab dip, cheese and Old Bay and baked.
My main course was the recommended classic cheeseburger ($9.99), a 100 percent Angus beef patty topped with a choice of cheese. The burger, which was served with superior fries, was big, juicy and delicious.
Mona said another big seller is the steak and cheese sandwich ($11.99), which is a shaved filet served with caramelized peppers and onions and a choice of cheese.
“It’s good. It’s really good,” Mona said.
He also recommended the boom-boom tacos, which are fish seared or pan-fried and served with a mango salsa.
“I have guys coming from all over [to eat them] that eat fish tacos everywhere, and they say ours are hands-down the best,” Mona said. “[And the boom-boom sauce has] just the amount of kick to go with the mango. Not too hot, not too spicy. It gives you that taste you want to come back for.”
Mona also said he was proud of the restaurant’s crabcake sandwich, which he said is made with 80 percent jumbo lump and 20 percent regular lump crabmeat.
“I stand by ours because ours is a natural crabcake,” Mona said of the dish, which he added was the restaurant’s item that brings in the least amount of profit. “We use no fillers, just some spices and some mayo, just enough to hold it together.”
Mona said he and his staff — which includes Costello, head chef Chris Lawrence, chef Andrew Sloop and manager Brandy Duffield — have tinkered with the menu but appear to have finally come up with one they like.
“When we first came in a few summers ago we tried a few different versions,” Mona said of the menu, which dropped such nonsellers as a salmon salad and a chicken moscato. “This menu’s been here about 10 months, and the items and prices seem to be good for this area. It seems to work well for this area so we’re going to stick with this menu.”
Mona hopes to make the restaurant, which also caters events thanks to event coordinator Nina Stockwell, more of a year-round destination.
Mona’s father, Mike Mona Sr., bought the restaurant — then known as the Old Port Inn — but sold it to his brother, Cap Mona, in the mid-1970s. Cap Mona rented or leased the property out several times before Mike Mona Jr. came on board in 2011, a year after the restaurant acquired its current name.
The property, which also has a marina managed by Melissa Hill, sits a few feet away from the restaurant. And it has undergone a facelift, as well. A few years back Cap Mona had its channels dredged and removed about 800 truckloads to accommodate bigger vessels.
“Three years ago we said, ‘We’re going to lower our [docking] fees and try and get more boats in here to help, and it’s working,” Mona Jr. said. “It’s nothing to have a 45-footer parked at the end of the bar.”
Mona said previous general managers would experience difficulty running both the marina and the restaurant.
“They would come in and try and run both, and you just can’t. They’d spend too much time on one side and then the other side’s failing,” he said. “That had been the problem for years so my uncle asked me to come in and make something of the place. We still have a lot to learn but, we’re well on our way.”
And you should be on your way, as well.