When people think of food tourism, they immediately think of catching a flight to Copenhagen, Tokyo, or Spain's San Sebastian. It's easy to overlook the culinary treasures of the United States, but don't!
One of these food jewels will cost you less than a tank of gas to get there from Washington, Baltimore or Philadelphia. The foodie destination that's sitting just off your radar? It's Dorchester County, a seaside community on the shores of Chesapeake Bay in Eastern Maryland.
I recently spent 48 hours with my friend Katya in this picturesque part of America. We were charmed by the area's bald eagles, dreamy sunsets and the scent of the sea, but it was the delicious, local fare which will bring us back.
Casting a Net in Dorchester County
No trip to the state of Maryland is complete without crab. Watermen have been farming crab for centuries in this region.
You can catch a delicious crab dinner—with a view—at Old Salty’s, a local institution on Hooper’s Island known for its seafood finesse. As you walk in to this gem, you'll find locals treating themselves to crab dinners served to all diners' taste: steamed crab cakes, breaded softshell crab or traditional crab cakes.
Travel Tip: Pick a dinner table by the window for a beautiful view of sunset across the water.
For us, the steamed crab cake was the winner: the juicy lump crab was cooked in a casserole with a rich, buttery flavor. This was paired with a baked pineapple, which perfectly married sweet and savory.
We gave in to temptation and concluded our lunch with a homemade lemon meringue pie after seeing a cute elderly couple indulge in a wedge of the citrus treat.
If you don’t have time to drive out to Old Salty’s then Ocean Odyssey is for you. Don’t be fooled by its location off Route 50 surrounded by strip malls. Once you enter the restaurant, you're transported to a classic seaside joint with a vintage Maryland-themed décor.
When you're headed to Ocean Odyssey, you can't miss the steamed blue crabs covered in Old Bay Seasoning, a foodie's seasoning staple in this region.
Don't forget that blue crabs can be tricky, and many people get frustrated trying to get the meat out of the shell. Have a local teach you "Crab 101" and don’t be afraid to dig in, use the mallets and pry the juicy meat out of the shell.
Oysters for All and All for Oysters
I love oysters. I love them cooked in any way possible: raw, grilled or fried. Sadly, quality oysters are typically a winter treat.
If Johnny Schockley, a second-generation Maryland waterman, gets his way then there will be oyster avaliable far into the future, farmed in a way that doesn't harm the natural eco-system of the Chesapeake Bay.
Schockley is the owner of Hooper Island Aquaculture, a sustainable oyster farm working to change the landscape of traditional oyster farming. The Aquaculture center is helping introduce more sustainable farming practices, ensuring that dozens of Maryland generations will get to eat locally harvested oysters.
While you're in town, you can attend a tour of the oyster farm, learn about this unique process and round out your tour with a raw and grilled oyster tasting. Schockley even makes his own seafood sauce. It perfectly complements the fresh ceviche and oysters that you can purchase on site. For another perfect local pairing, serve you can put Schockley's oysters beautifully together with Sloop Betty vodka, distilled nearby in Stevensville, Maryland.
Local Breweries and Gastropubs
One of the things that I find most inspiring about Dorchester County is its love for all things local. People are proud of their roots and it shows through featured food and drink.
Such is the story of two young men, J.T. Merryweather and Chris Brohan, who started brewing craft beers at home. Their hobby blossomed into a business after they decided to design a brewery in the heart of Cambridge, Maryland. Today at RealeRivival Brewery, stop in and taste a wide spectrum of beers from deep-hued stouts to golden jalapeno-infused beers. They've created a trendy and well-loved local brand, rife with a personal touch that you can see in the popular merchandise and colorful brewery room.
Travel Tip: Before heading in for brews, check out the RAR Brewery calendar for special events such as sidewalk barbecues and cheerfully lit live music performances.
On Cambridge's High Street, a lane lined with huge colonial homes that lead up to the Choptank River, Chef Patrick Fanning brings together all of the finest elements of Dorchester County cuisine. His deliciously decadent menu at High Spot Gastropub is an instant classic.
For a starter at High Spot, indulge in more of John Schockley's oysters, fried in a buffalo sauce and then wash it down with a specialty beer and wine. Maryland's delicious crab also makes an appearance in the High Spot's crab and corn bisque. While bisque can seem overwhelmingly cream-based for the summer, this one was made with a light broth, perfect for a summer night.
We loved the grilled peach salad with fried goat cheese. The smokiness of the grilled texture against the sweet peach was lovely. It’s the type of recipe you will want to replicate again at home.
The most-beloved menu item at High Spot, however, is the duck fat burger. Guests travel long distances just for this slice of decadence. It's a sirloin burger cooked in duck fat and topped with bacon and egg. Bring a large appetite!
Some small towns make it challenging to feel at home, but in Dorchester County we find quite the opposite as we ate our way through this quaint area, listening to the stories of those who've cooked at Old Salty’s for generations and to the new stories from the young staff at RAR Brewery.
There are plenty of largely hidden destinations in the U.S. which deserve to be in the limelight of the global foodie scene; it's these places like Dorchester County that continue to highlight the fresh creativity of American cuisine.
About the author: Jessica van Dop DeJesus is a travel and food writer and a contributor to WhereTraveler.com. She began traveling as a young Marine 17 years ago and has been to 39 countries on and off duty. She currently lives in Washington, D.C., where in addition to her travels, she blogs about the local food scene and explores the best attractions the city has to offer. Follow more of her adventures in travel and dining here and at www.diningtraveler.com.