The Washington Times - March 31, 2009, 06:28PM

By Jacquie Kubin

The absolute best things about living in the Mid-Atlantic area – D.C. to Baltimore – are the many great day or overnight destinations to explore.

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A Chestertown Spring Painter (Photo/Jacquie Kubin

Quaint colonial era towns filled with great resorts, historic inns and incredible restaurants.

As an area resident, hands down my favorite jaunt is to the Eastern Shore, but not the beach – the number one region tourist draw.

I love to visit Chestertown, Maryland.

Sitting on the Chester River, the seasons are always pleasant. The historical society and the Sultana Projects help us to experience our history. Buildings date before the Revolution and there are many days of exploring – nature or history – to keep one entertained.

The Imperial Hotel offers quality brunch, lunch and dinner fare. Colonial history and quality fare!

What could be better on a sunny afternoon?

Chestertown’s history dates back to the early 1700’s when it was not only the seat of Kent County, but also designated as one of Maryland’s “six official custom ports.” Early18th century water travelers navigated up from the Atlantic coast, landing at Chestertown, a bustling urban center filled with ships laden with grains heading for Ireland, Spain and Portugal, wine for the islands of Madeira, Cape Verde and the Azores.


Sultana’s Masts and Rig (Photo/Jacquie Kubin)

An official port of entry for British good destined for the Colonies, Chestertown became a rest stop for those travelers who traveled the Chester River on their way south to Annapolis or north to Philadelphia and New York.

As the city grew in size and prosperity, affluent merchants and ship owners began to erect the impressive brick buildings still seen along the waterfront. The Geddes Piper House, circa 1784, sits on land purchased by Williams Geddes, the Customs Inspector for the region. He was also a prosperous merchant and owner of the brigantine Geddes.

In May of 1774, Chestertown was witness to their own “Tea Party,” almost a year after the more famous event in Boston. This revolt put Chestertown onto a path to revolution as they town “Resolved” to forbid the importing, selling or consuming of tea in Chestertown.

This historical event sets the stage for one of Chestertown’s biggest event as the Historical Society sponsors the Annual Tea Party Festival, held this year on May 23, 2009.

The reenactment of Chestertown’s stand against taxes being only one of many events that include cocktail parties, river raft races, street performances, 5k and 10k mile runs, strolling musicians and colonial era crafts, being held that weekend.


The Front Room at The Imperial Hotel (Photo/Jacquie Kubin)

Making this event even more special will be the chance to return to Chestertown’s historic Imperial Hotel.

Built in 1903, the hotel sits on High Street, just blocks from the riverfront placing visitors in the center of Chestertown’s charms.

“Chestertown is a place that is caught in a time warp; the whole town has the feel of a time past,” said Joe Dolce, Manager of the Imperial Hotel. “We have preserved its Victorian look with updated amenities. Tucked away in the antique armoires are flat screen TV’s. We have wireless Internet and have updated most of the beds to pillow top mattresses.

“We wanted to keep the history but not at the cost of comfort. The hotel has the feel of an historic inn with the amenities of a modern hotel”

The property retains yesteryear’s luxury with large guest rooms each featuring well-appointed baths, period furniture and fixtures all wrapped within the comforts and amenities of a modern hotel. The buildings wide two-story veranda provides visitors with a place to sit and enjoy the night’s air before or after dinner at Chef Tom Pizzica’s Front Room restaurant.

 


Chef Tom Pizzaca outside The Imperial Hotel (Photo/Carol Clayton Photography)

Chef Tom brings youthful joie de verve to the plate. His dishes are regionally influenced and the variety of offerings create a unique and varied menu that can be enjoyed next to the fireplace, alongside the bar, in the formal dining room or al fresco, either in the courtyard or in-front of the hotel, beneath the second floor veranda.

Pondering over the comfortable mix of starters, soups, salads and entrees is equally part of the joy of dining at The Front Room. There are so many interesting and varied dishes choosing one becomes difficult.

The solution of course is to come hungry and often.

Dishes from the sea, like meaty fried oysters served with crisp Lemon Aioli are a delight. Crawfish Chowder enhanced with crisp, salty house smoked bacon is rich and warm.

Served with aged provolone and herbed croutons, the Smoked Tomato Soup becomes a warm comforting dish that speaks to the rich fertile land that surrounds the river.

From the shores, Chef Tom offers a Confit of Whole Duck Leg served over shaved Brussels sprouts with grapefruit marmalade. Confit refers to the preparation and cooking method of the duck and while not difficult, requires the meat to rest in the refrigerator for days while seasoning.

The resulting dish is delicately seasoned with thyme, tarragon, dried mustard, garlic and salt and pepper.


Confit of Duck (Photo Carol Clayton Photography)

This dry marinade, allowed to slowly seep into the meat, supports the rich sweetness of the duck giving it the depth to stand up against the nutty savory of the shaved Brussels sprouts.

Grapefruit marmalade adds a citrus to this dish, further bolstering the richness of the duck. Worth a trip over the bridge on it’s own.

For lunch, quick bites, late night cocktails or any moment in-between, the bar at The Imperial Hotel beckons. Hotel Manager Joe Dolce creates a variety of impressive events including an ongoing wine tasting schedule that makes me wish I lived in Chestertown!

Stopping off at the Imperial Hotel Bar, a day spent working quietly winds down with a fun and funky Retro Cocktail menu filled with familiar, but possibly forgotten creations whose names alone bring a smile to ones face.

Stop by and ask for a Bombay Gin Bronx - Dewar’s and Drambuie Rusty Nail, or my personal favorite – first enjoyed at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans where it originated, an Old Overholt Sazerac.

The bar also offers a fun menu of Manhattans and Champagne Cocktails and crisp, cool Martinis. While enjoying lunch, or Retro Cocktails, avail yourself of The Front Room’s lighter bits, like Scallop Tacos with Pickled Cucumbers, Thai Chilies and Basil Lime Aioli.


Scallop Tacos with Imperial Punch (Photo by Carol Clayton Photography)

Chef Tom imparts a bit of an Asian flair in the dish making it stand outside of the normal as he combines the richness of the scallop with the bite of the Thai chilies, wrapping it all with the coolness of the cucumber and basil lime aioli wrapped in the silkiness of the floor tortilla.

Sundays become a time for a leisurely Bloody Mary Brunch filled with classic breakfast foods such as omelets, pancakes and home made corned beef hash with eggs along with a few culinary surprises such as Crab Cakes Benedict or the Andouille Sausage Soup.

The Front Room offers many other standout dishes, from juicy hamburgers to perfectly prepared steaks. For late night snacks, enjoy many of the great antipasto and cheese plates that the kitchen offers.

Making the Imperial Hotel and the Front Room truly remarkable is Manager Joe Dolce and Chef Tom Pizzica willingness to be more than a hotel. More than a restaurant.

They care, as owners should, about their town, their clients and their neighbors who stop by daily offering a variety of dining events, wine tastings and themed entertainment offerings. In January 2009 the property reached out with economy sensitive menus reflecting what they saw as the cost consciousness of today’s diner.

“We created the “What’s for Dinner?” menu, a cross between family style dining and Russian tableside service to meet today’s demands,” said Mr. Dolce. “The menu consists of fresh baked homemade biscuits and pickled cabbage, a daily soup selection, two entrees complimented by two vegetables and two starches.”

Sultana at Dock (Photo/Jacquie Kubin)

The Sultana Projects

When in Chestertown, The Sultana Projects Office located on Cross Street provides an interesting stop.

A non-profit group, The Sultana Projects works to share knowledge about our early history – and environmental science – through a series of land-based educational programs.

At the office, look at books, talk with a sailor or nature guide

A very pleasant part of their programs includes sails on the Historic Schooner Sultana, a replica of a Boston-built merchant vessel that sailed for four years as the smallest schooner ever in the British Royal Navy.

These almost always require advanced reservations. School and Home school groups interested in taking a class out on the Sultana should call their offices at least six months in advance.

Today’s Sultana was built to the smallest detail using the plans and documentation created for the original ship, built in 1767.

Sultana’s role at that time was to “police” the ships on the river, in the harbor and in the bay searching their holds for items being smuggled to avoid taxation under the Townsend Duties, or the often referenced Tea Tax.

Sultana Projects
105 S Cross St Chestertown, MD 21620
(410) 778-595

Next to the food, the service makes this dinner unique. The meal is served tableside off of platters and offers diners an opportunity to sample a lot of different flavors in one affordable meal.

While in Chestertown, there is plenty to keep one occupied, though hours spent along the river in the afternoon sun, at a leisurely lunch or dinner at the Imperial Hotel, walking or biking through town or down any of the nature paths are the most pleasant.

A fun stop is the White Swan Tavern, a tavern whose records reach back to pre-Revolutionary War days. This historic inn operates as a bed and breakfast, offering afternoon teas from 3:00 to 5:00 each day.

At the end of a day, Chestertown offers the visitor many fun things to do – from shopping quaint shops, antiquing, pleasant bike riding and hiking trails, bird watching boating, crabbing, horseback riding and more.

It is a place to feel comfortable. To let your children run and explore. To relax and forget about the beltway tethered issues we all have in our lives. Chestertown really is one of those very special places that you should visit.

Again and again.

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If you are in the Mid-Atlantic/D.C. area, Chestertown is close enough to visit for the day or for a stress-free weekend get-away.

Visit the following websites and sign up for their newsletters, receiving weekly announcements for wine tasting, menu specials and events at the Imperial Hotel. Event and sailing schedules for the Sultana and town event information.

Imperial Hotel
208 High Street
Chestertown, MD 21620
(410) 778-5000

White Swan Tavern
228 Cannon St
Chestertown, MD 21620
(410) 778-2300