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FALLing into St. Michaels, MD

Ahhhh…..fall. A season filled with crisp cool air, blue skies, and colorful leaves. As the calendar slowly slid into autumn, I decided there was no better way to enjoy the beautiful fall weather than to plan an escape. The “been there, done that” nature of previous fall trips to the nearby mountains begged that I try something new.

Inexplicably, I found myself drawn to the coast. I had a vision of foggy mornings on a creaking wooden dock, sipping hot cider from an oversized mug, wearing a chunky sweater and plotting a day filled with blue crabs and sailboats.

Not wanting to fly too far, I set my sights on St. Michael’s, Maryland, a small town on the state’s Eastern Shore with a population just a smidge over 1,000. Located right along the craggy coastline, this quaint waterfront destination seemed like an idyllic waterfront retreat.

I knew it would be easy to talk Matt into it. All I had to do was tell him part of the movie Wedding Crashers, one of his favorites, was filmed there.

“HOLY SHIRTS AND PANTS” we were headed to Maryland!

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“CRAB CAKES AND FOOTBALL! THAT’S WHAT MARYLAND DOES!”

As we taxied down the runway at the Easton, MD airport, I had visions of crab cakes dancing in my head. The “crab-zilla” to be precise.

Sugar Buns Bakery was conveniently located in the FBO at the Easton Airport and is home to the King Crab of sandwiches….the crab-zilla. It’s piled high with a giant crab cake, 6 legs of crispy bacon, a slab of heirloom tomato, and fried onion rings on 2 thick pieces of Texas toast and finished off with olive “eyes.”

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Nothing says, “Welcome to Maryland” like a crab cake bigger than your head.

We checked into our delightful Air BNB rental. Located right on the water with its own dock and several acres, it was exactly what we were looking for.

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We quickly settled into some large Adirondack chairs to do nothing more than watch the ducks swim by.

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Before it got too dark, we decided to take the pontoon boat that came with the house out for a sunset spin.

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Not wanting to venture too far from home that first night, I had found a local place just down the street that served an oyster buffet on Friday nights. To Matt, the words “all you can eat oysters” has the same impact that “Louis Vuitton is giving away free purses” would sound to the average woman.

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He practically ran there.

Oysters…meh. I dove into the crispy fried chicken and mac n’cheese.

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For dessert, we had to try the famous Smith Island Cake, apparently found all over St. Michaels, but this was our first. The State Dessert of Maryland, a true Smith Island Cake has 8 – 14 individually baked thin layers of cake with frosting between each layer and then slathered generously on the outside.

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The cake hails from Smith Island, a 400 year old fishing village with only about 250 residents. It was there that the cake was born. In the 1800’s, when the men of the village would go on the annual autumn oyster harvest, their wives would bake the cakes to send with them as a reminder of their families and communities waiting for them at home. They began to use fudge in the layers rather than frosting, as it kept longer when they were out at sea.

Traditionally yellow cake with fudge frosting, there are many variations. We tried the red velvet. It was 9 layers of delicious.
After Matt had eaten his fill of oysters, we stopped off at the Inn at Perry Cabin for a drink at Purser’s Pub. The Inn was the location where the wedding in Wedding Crashers was filmed. Just seeing the grounds made me wish I was dancing to the YMCA in a bad bridesmaid dress.

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“RULE #1: NEVER LEAVE A FELLOW CRASHER BEHIND.”

It was a beautiful misty morning on the water, and Matt really wanted to simply curl up by the fire with a good book, but we weren’t having any of that.

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It was time to head into St. Michaels and do some shopping!

St. Michaels was small and quaint. It’s main thoroughfare, Talbot Street, was lined with colonial buildings turned into adorable shops. It was the height of their “Fall into St. Michaels” festival, so the place was bursting at the seams with colorful leaves, hay bales, corn husks, pie contests, and pumpkin carving.

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We sampled artisan olive oils, we sniffed home-made goats milk soap, we sifted through dusty antiques and ate ice cream.

We had been told by locals that The Crab Claw was a “must do.” Touristy, yes, but still a “must do.” So we did it.

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It was a beautiful sunny day and we were seated right on the water with their amazing margaritas and a bucket of crabs served with a side dish of Old Bay.

Now, I thought we had some weird sides in the south: hominy, polk salad, grits, squirrel dumplings, pickled eggs….but Old Bay? Apparently, people in Maryland put Old Bay on everything. Crabs? Needs more Old Bay. Pasta? Maybe let’s add some Old Bay. You know what this cupcake needs? OLD BAY!

I had my Old Bay. I had my newspaper. I had my bib. I had my hammer. I was ready. Bring on the crabs.

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I’m going to be honest here.

I didn’t get it.

Crab legs are one thing – sure, there is some work involved, but you get a giant meaty slab as a result. Better yet….a crab cake! Let someone else do all the work and then just mash that yumminess up into a patty for you.

But whole crabs.

I didn’t get it.

Why did I want to eat food that came with an extensive paper diagram explaining how to eat it?

And required the use of a hammer?

Yes, the meat was delicious, but I nearly died of starvation in the 754 minutes it took to get the meat out of ONE CRAB. And when I did get the meat out, my hands were SO DIRTY. And the meat was SO TINY.

The work-to-reward ratio seemed a little off to me. I spent 10 minutes digging into a recently deceased crustacean, all sharp armor and prickly legs, to achieve a disappointing pile of sweet inner meat. I got a thimble full of wine when I worked for a double magnum.

And my hands were stinky.

Don't you northerners every say another word to me about grits. Are they confusing? Sure. Do they make you wonder why you should eat them? Of course. But at least with grits, you can just pick up a spoon and start eating. And they don’t make your hands dirty.

I figured out quickly that eating blue crabs was more about socialization and less about actual food consumption. Sitting in the autumn sunshine, watching the boats cruise by, and leisurely picking the meat from a blue crab would have been amazing if I hadn’t been starving.

Notes for next time: Get bigger crabs; eat something else first; enjoy the experience rather than looking for the reward.

Next time, blue crabs….I’ll be ready for you.

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After lunch, we made a stop at Lyon Distilling Company, a micro craft distillery specializing in rum and whiskey.

Not only was the place lovely to look at, the rums were quite amazing. We particularly liked the Rock & Rum. To get this delightful creation, they infused their signature white rum with orange botanicals, blended the distillate with a candied-orange caramel, and finished it with dark cherries. It tasted like a rum old-fashioned in a bottle.

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We followed rum sampling with wine sampling at St. Michaels winery, because nothing is better after eating a teaspoon full of crab meat than drinking a whole lot.

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We made it back to the house in time for a breathtaking sunset.

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Then it was off to Ava’s for pizza.

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We were joined for dinner that night by local friends that we had never actually met.

It’s not uncommon these days to have “friends” you know only through common interests on the interwebs or that you met via other friends through social media.

This can lead to some awkward meetings where you end up in the same place at the same time and decide you MUST get together only to find out you have nothing in common and are pretty sure they are stalkers. It also leads to some epic friendships. Some of our best friends are people we met “virtually.”

I was really nervous. What if they turned out to be weirdos?

We should not have been worried about them being weirdos.

What I failed to realize was that WE were the weirdos.

One of us broke a wine glass all over their feet within 5 minutes of meeting them (Matt), one of us fell face first out of their truck and landed sprawled like road kill on the street with ripped pants (me), and one of us spent most of dinner in the bathroom (who this was shall remain anonymous to preserve someone’s already shattered dignity).

Despite making a colossally horrific first impression, we hit it off.

I love it when “virtual friends” become “real friends.”

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“UM…BUT STARBOARD’S THIS WAY.”

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With another crisp fall day in our hands, we decided to drive to nearby Tilghman Island for a ride on a historic skipjack, the Rebecca T. Ruark.

Tilghman is a tiny speck of an island in the Choptank River in the Chesapeake Bay. Just 3 miles long and a mile wide, its location in the bay allowed fisherman to work the water year round since the 1830’s.

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Built in 1886, the Rebecca T. Ruark is the oldest surviving skipjack in the Chesapeake Bay fleet. Her captain, Wade Murphy, will take you out on her for a 2 hour no-frills tour filled with stories of the island, the bay, and the boat.

Rebecca has dredged, hauled, raced, sank, been raised, been repaired, restored, rebuilt, and rebuilt, and rebuilt again. She has many tales to tell.

As we climbed aboard, I wasn’t sure who was crustier, the boat or the captain. Both were salty, weather-worn, and absolutely wonderful. Cpt. Wade made it instantly clear that there “Warn’t no drinks or food on this trip” and if that was a problem, we should just head back to our cars and go on a fancy sail.

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Cpt. Wade’s face was a maze of hard earned lines. He had one squinty eye and a gruff voice. His hands were like leather, no doubt from years of hauling up oysters in the frigid bay. He told us right off that he couldn’t hear a thing, so we should listen more than we talked.

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And boy, did he talk. As we settled into cracked plastic deck chairs, he pulled out a stack of faded notebooks. Each one was filled with clippings and photos. He proceeded to tell us about his island, his life as a 3rd generation waterman, and about his boat. While he liked to pretend he was a crusty character, he had a smile in his eyes and he literally glowed as he told us his stories.

I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend $30 or 2 hours.

They just don’t make them like the Rebecca T. Ruark anymore. Or like Cpt. Wade.

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It had been a beautiful morning to be on the water and all that oyster talk had made us hungry. We made our way across the tiny island to Marker 5, a lovely waterfront restaurant with a breezy deck facing the water.

Mid-day cocktails were ordered along with BBQ nachos, beer shrimp (with OLD BAY!), and a rich bowl of Maryland crab soup.

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Before leaving, we made a quick tour of Tilghman Island and the Country Store.

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We got home in time to spend a lazy afternoon staring at the water and taking the boat out for a sunset cruise.

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Dinner was a Gina’s, a kitchy little Southwest restaurant in town. It exuded a wonderfully bohemian vibe complete with string lights, original artwork, handpainted signs on the tables, mismatched tableware, and a case filled with old books. So, it really didn’t surprise us when we realized there was no “meat” on the menu. No strictly vegetarian, there was plenty of fish and seafood which was perfectly fine with us.

The margaritas were spectacular and the crab nachos were gargantuan. The shrimp tacos were loaded with spinach, goat cheese, mango salsa, and chipotle mayo.

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We never missed the beef.

“MAKE ME A BICYCLE, CLOWN.”

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Our original plans for the day were to rent bicycles and ride to the Oxford ferry. However, once I Googled the route and figured out much of the ride was on a busy 2 lane highway with no bike lane, I quickly changed my mind.

Vicki + Bicycle + Traffic = Unavoidable Catastrophe.

Instead, we made a hearty breakfast and drove to the ferry.

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Sure, we could have driven to Oxford, but what was the fun in that? We still wanted to ride the ferry across.

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Oxford was everything a coastal Maryland town should be. It was all picket fences, red front doors, and American flags. Brick walkways were scattered with pumpkins and colorful leaves, and the streets took us through colonial houses and cute little shops.

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We were devastated to find that the Scottish Highland Creamery was already closed for the season. Okay, maybe the others were just slightly disappointed, but I was devastated.

Instead, we settled into the courtyard at the Robert Morris Inn. Built in 1710, it claims to be the oldest inn in America.

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After a lunch of more crab cakes and crisp rose, it was time to jump back on the ferry.

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We had an afternoon sunset sail scheduled on the Selina II. We got the sail, just not the sunset.

No matter, there was enough bubbly to make up for it.

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Captain Iris was a very accomplished sailor, despite the fact that she looked like the love child of Sigourney Weaver and Bethany Frankel.

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We ended the evening at the St. Michaels Crab & Steak House at the recommendation of Captain Iris. We had been crabcaked to death and needed some fried seafood.

Casual and cozy, with perfect coconut fried shrimp, it was just the thing to follow a non-sunset sail.

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“MA …THE MEATLOAF!”

It was time to head home, but not without some beef to offset all that crab.

The house-cut fries and thick cheeseburgers at Sugar Buns was a perfect send off.

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Especially when followed by a slab of Smith Island Cake.

Rule #64 – Always save room for cake.

Posted by vicki_h 12:51 Archived in USA Tagged fall coastal maryland chesapeake md st._michaels

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