- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 8, 2006

The Nautilus Diner has sailed into the Crofton area, and judging from the long lines waiting to get in, it’s making a big splash.

Looming along Route 3 in Anne Arundel County, Nautilus seems about as different from a diner as any place can get. Inside, though, it has the feel of a traditional diner — but about five times the size.

A large beverage fountain-bar is lined up in front of the kitchen and equipped with individual stools. Most of the rest of the restaurant is made up of comfortable booths, each with its own jukebox. For 25 cents, you can select music from the ‘40s to the present.

The menu, like the girth of the diner, is large and contains not only American staples but also many Greek plates, reflecting the owners’ heritage.

Breakfast is served any time and includes numerous varieties of cereals, egg platters, omelets, pancakes, French toast, waffles, bagels and muffins.

The farmer’s omelet ($7.59) is hearty: three eggs mixed with sausage, ham, bacon, green peppers and onions. The eggs were somewhat dry, as is usual when cooked on a higher-heat griddle, so would have benefited from the addition of cheese. The overall mix of flavors was very satisfying, though.

Not-so-ordinary omelet offerings include lox and onion, feta and spinach, scrapple, and pastrami.

Omelets come with potatoes and toast. Home fries are thick slices of fried potatoes, with a lot done extra-crisp. Unfortunately, the potatoes were barely warm.

Chocolate-chip pancakes ($6.89) were loaded with chips, making them warm and gooey. Fortunately, the batter didn’t appear to be sweetened, which can make this favorite too much of a good thing. Three large pancakes weren’t overly fluffy but were tender and flavorful.

Unique breakfast offerings include the Captain’s Breakfast, which is sliced Nova Scotia lox on a toasted muffin with two poached eggs, topped with Hollandaise sauce and served en casserole with home fries. Also Monte Cristo French toast — thick slices of house-made challah bread with ham, white-meat turkey and Swiss cheese — and gyro strips served with two eggs, home fries and toast.

Light fare includes a nice variety of soups and salads. The Maryland crab soup ($2.99 a cup) was a respectable version of this local favorite, with a nice amount of spice and crabmeat.

The sandwich list contains just about everything you can find at a good deli: cheese, meat, poultry, fish and egg combinations and also a number of heroes, wraps and burgers.

The gyro deluxe ($8.89) is deconstructed compared to what most other restaurants serve. Gyro strips and fried onions are served on a soft pita, with Greek salad and yogurt sauce on the side. The meat was plentiful and very flavorful, and the yogurt sauce and feta were nice and tangy. Being fried, the onions were caramelized, which offered another layer of taste and texture. French fries completed the meal.

Triple decker and hot “open” sandwiches are not to be forgotten. The deckers come with turkey, tuna salad, chicken salad, ham and roast beef with your choice of coleslaw, fries or potato salad. The hot open sandwiches include turkey with gravy and cranberry sauce, roast beef and ham.

Then there are the dinner entrees.

This is where Nautilus goes over the top.

High-end plates at a diner? Yes indeed. Filet mignon and lobster tails are offered. This diner decided to go uptown.

Chicken, roast beef, turkey and meatloaf plates compete against New York strip, the aforementioned filet, lamb chops and sugar-cured Virginia ham. Of course, it couldn’t carry the name “diner” without offering calf’s liver.

Next are the seafood choices, which take up an entire page of the menu.

Among about a dozen broiled platters are Maryland crab cakes, shrimp, scallops, brook trout, salmon and sole.

Many of the same items also can be ordered fried.

Specials include the Nautilus combo: 3-ounce lobster tail, shrimp, crab cake, scallops and a stuffed chopped clam.

Shrimp scampi ($17.79) was served with saffron rice, zucchini marinade and house salad. The shrimp were large and fresh and cooked to sweet perfection. The sauce sported just enough garlic. The sides also were well flavored and satisfying.

Desserts are all made on the premises, and all are available for take-home as well as individual servings.

The menu offers more than 30. The list starts with the childhood favorite Jell-O, then moves on to chocolate or rice pudding, pies, cakes and cookies. Apple crumb cake, tiramisu and Linzer tart are more ambitious. Sundaes and floats are available from the fountain.

In an end note, another interesting twist is that beer, wine and mixed drinks are available — that is, if coffee, juice and soda-fountain combinations are not your frequent elixir.

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