McGarvey’s doesn’t advertise much – because it doesn’t have to. This City Dock anchor does a brisk business at all times. What struck me most was the intimacy between servers and local, regular patrons. If a customer had not been there the previous week, the server would ask why. Table after table, I overheard different regulars assure the staff they’d come for brunch the following week, even though it was Boat Week. I thought to myself, “This must be some brunch for people to brave the crowds, parking and everything.”
When you’re at a crowded restaurant, don’t you always worry about what the service will be like? There is no need for that at McGarvey’s; the staff is excellent. For instance, when I spilled something on my blouse, I took a little napkin and dipped it into my dining companion’s yet unused water. Within a second, our server had brought over a large club soda and clean napkin, completely of her own initiative!
This is due to the watchful command of owner Mike Ashford. This impresario provides fascinating stories and conversation that used to be the mainstay of pubs everywhere. Just imagine a cross between Hemingway and Tony Bourdain. Mike is a former fighter pilot, sailing buddy of Walter Cronkite, motorcyclist across Europe and unabashed foodie. When most people think of comfort food, they imagine a meal at Mom’s – a couple favorites in a familiar menu. But what Mike has in mind is more akin to a dazzling family reunion dinner, if your family came from all over the world – each individual item is a gem on its own, complete with its own history. Mike’s chili recipe is from his Air Force officer days. His Black Bean soup recipe is the secret of a friend’s Cuban grandma. Wednesdays’ meatloaf tradition stems from his own family’s washday meal. Mike also is the proud owner of “hundreds of cookbooks”.
The atmosphere is a traditional pub environment, but with an airy sky lit touch, including an enclosed garden. Don’t miss the authentic antiques and family mementos Mike has covering the walls. You can dress casually here (but absolutely no tank tops), or get a little spiffier and feel comfortable either way. In fact, McGarvey’s is where my dad took my friend Lysa and me after I was sworn into the Maryland Bar. It was the perfect kick-back place when quality is still important.
For Sunday brunch, you can order from the lunch or special brunch menu. Appetizers are in the $7-8 range, while entrees will set you back about $10. The lunch items include a new Atkins low-carb Beer Griller Banger with Dubliner Irish cheese. Mike says he is an Atkins adherent when he isn’t being tempted by his restaurant’s tasty breads and desserts! We started out with coffee accompanied by a big pitcher of cream. To me, that small touch is luxury in itself. I loved not having to unwrap a million little plastic containers, tear up my nails and leave a disaster of empty wrappers on the table. We followed with Bloody Marys, served here with cracked black pepper.
For an appetizer, I tried the smoked Bluefish. Bluefish is available in the Mid-Atlantic area this year in record numbers. It certainly is a favorite of boaters and commercial watermen. There are folks who won’t have any part of this dark, oily fish, but they just haven’t had it prepared expertly – as they do at McGarvey’s. The first secret of Bluefish is to fix it fresh off the boat. The other secret is the smoking; this oily fish retains the perfect moisture and flavor. The fish is served with little rye breads and a sour cream/horseradish mixture. If you haven’t ever eaten gefilte fish (which has carp in it) with horseradish, you may wonder at this sauce. Trust me – it’s perfect.
We also tried a local perennial favorite, crab dip. Carney’s is extra, extra rich, served with a crusty baguette. Many locals call in and order this as a carryout treat.
We also sampled Roast Beef Hash and Creamed Chipped Beef; both were tasty and had a homemade quality, with generous portions.
My dining companion and I have been staying clear of “Ms. So and So’s” desserts in restaurants – and so does Mike Ashford. Mike says his dessert maker looks the way a chef should: 350 lbs and counting! Who were we to argue? My companion and I ordered the key lime pie and macaroons. I tried the key lime tropical dessert, to find out how it would be interpreted by a world traveler. It was velvety, luxurious and tangy. When’s the last time you ordered macaroons in a restaurant? Probably never. Are you only familiar with the crazy things sold at the grocery store? Mike convinced me to try his personal favorite. It was a huge, moist coconut confection with chocolate ganache topping.
I would recommend McGarvey’s whenever you are looking for homemade quality food, reasonable prices and a very caring environment.
McGarvey’s is located at 8 Market Street, Annapolis, MD. Sunday brunch is served from 10 am until noon.