Easton, Maryland, is no ordinary small town. There’s a wealth of history, culture and pleasant living here — Robert Mitchum once lived on a farm outside town — as well as a weekend get-away for well-to-do Washingtonians. It’s not as touristy as St. Michael’s and considerably livelier than Tilghman Island.
Easton has a wealth of beautiful dwellings, churches and public houses: Simple frame colonial houses, brick Federal, Georgian and Victorian styles of architecture. The oldest religious building still in use in the United States is the Quaker Third Haven Meeting House, constructed around 1662 to 1664. The town also has what may be the oldest continuously inhabited African-American neighborhood, The Hill, settled originally in the 18th century by freed slaves.
The first English settlers arrived in the 1630s and established tobacco plantations in the area. Talbot County was formally established in 1662. Tobacco served as money and was traded for English manufactured goods. The county seat, Talbot Court House, later became Easton, the “East Capital” of Maryland.
An imposing statue of native son Frederick Douglass, born a slave, stands in front of the courthouse. He became a world famous abolitionist, writer and thinker. Douglass’ hand rests on the podium as he delivers his “Self-Made Men” speech on Nov. 25, 1878, to a segregated audience in the main courtroom of the courthouse.
In recent years, Paul Prager, a transplant from New York to Easton, principal of Bluepoint Hospitality Group, has been buying and renovating old buildings on Federal Street, across from the Court House, adding extra vitality to life in Easton.
The jewel of the block is the restaurant, Bas Rouge, where the silverware glistens, the glasses are made of delicate crystal, plates are fine china, walls are adorned with gold framed paintings of 19th century German and Austrian hunting scenes and the service is impeccable. Best of all, the food is outstanding.
No one wears red stockings here — “bas rouge” translates from French into “red stockings.” The restaurant is named for a breed of dog, the Beauceron, also known as bas rouge. Bas Rouge (the restaurant) serves three- or four-course prix-fixe dinners, priced at $85 or $100, respectively. The Austrian-inspired menu with Eastern Shore touches delights. Bas Rouge is open Friday and Saturday for dinner and Thursday and Friday for a la carte lunch. Special dinners occur from time to time, the next one taking place on June 8 featuring wines from Chateau Cos d’Estournel.
The current Bas Rouge menu includes such dishes as seared venison loin, warm oyster salad, butter poached salmon, wild diver scallops with stuffed calamari, and braised short ribs of beef. Always on the menu are Wiener schnitzel, a perfectly cooked veal cutlet, crisp on the outside in its crumb coat, and tender on the inside, served with lingonberries and fingerling potatoes. Desserts include a chocolate souffle.
Aside from Bas Rouge, other Blue Point Hospitality buildings on the block house the attractive Sunflowers & Greens lunch restaurant featuring artisanal soups, salads, and wonderful bread; Bumble Bee Juice, modeled after an apothecary shop, offering fresh juices, smoothies and breakfast bowls. Weather Gage is a coffee shop with a variety of coffees, croissants and pastries. In the middle of the block is the Blue Mat yoga studio.
Then there’s The Stewart, an elegant bar-lounge serving only scotch, vintage champagne, and small plates, with over 100 different scotches to try. The Stewart is now hosting a Champagne and Caviar Hour, between 6 and 7 p.m. on Wednesday through Saturday evenings. Guests receive two glasses of complimentary non-vintage champagne with an order of caviar.
The newest Blue Point venture is Bonheur, a “fanciful pie and ice cream shop” scheduled to open in June. A wine and cheese shop (“The Wardroom”) will open in 2020, and a pizza parlor as well as a bakery, are scheduled for 2021.
Easton has a wide variety of restaurants as well as Bas Rouge: Out of the Fire (new American), BBQ Joint (slow smoked meats), Scosso (Italian), and Hunter’s Tavern in the Tides Inn (Eastern Shore specialties) among others.
Aside from its wealth of historic buildings Easton boasts a first-rate Academy Art Museum with an excellent collection representing most modern and contemporary artists. There are temporary exhibits of local artists and of world famous ones. Monthly noontime concerts are part of the museum’s programs.
The Avalon Theater, a 1920s silent movie and vaudeville house, is now home of live musical performances, including some first-rate bluegrass and folk concerts. (The elevator in the building is said to be haunted as it occasionally goes up or down as if operated by a ghost.)
Available at the Talbot County Visitor Center are self-guided walking tour maps of historic buildings, other places said to be haunted, historic houses of worship, and of the town’s black history.
Easton is only one-and-a-half hours’ drive away. It’s well worth the trip.
• Corinna Lothar is a Washington writer, critic and frequent contributor to The Washington Times.
This story has been corrected from an earlier version to reflect that French restaurant Brasserie Brightwell is no longer in business.