I could almost hear the stagecoach pulling up outside and the bustle of passengers gathering their belongings for a night in this 18th Century Eastern Shore town.
We’d escaped crowds and the noise of Ocean City for a quiet dinner out in Princess Anne. The Washington Inn and Tavern isn’t close to the beach, but it’s worth the 45 minute drive.
I’ve been to pretty Princess Anne a couple of times. I first went as a reporter covering a meeting at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore many years ago. I’ve been back as a travel writer to see the Teackle Mansion, an 1802 beauty built by Littleton Dennis Teackle, a shipping magnate and an associate of Thomas Jefferson. It has gorgeous elaborate plaster ceilings, a 7-foot fireplace, a beehive oven, American Chippendale furniture, a Tudor-Gothic pipe organ, and an 1806 silk world map.
This time I came for dinner with a side order of history.
The inn was built in 1744 when the town was new. Located at the head of the Manokin River, then a navigable river, it was a busy market center. And I bet this elegant inn — now both a hotel and a restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner — was a busy place.
Alas, when we arrived, we were the only diners. It was a rainy weeknight, not likely to encourage a night on the town. Our server, Kelly, friendly and efficient, made sure we were comfortable in a small dining room off the center hall. The room was dominated by a fireplace with simple tables and chairs.
Once we had a glass of wine and menus, we sat back and enjoyed our quiet evening. The menu makes the most of local produce and seafood, a bit traditional a bit modern. And there are so many choices: crab bisque, fish and chips, crab cakes, Eastern Shore bouillabaisse with crab, cod, mussels and shrimp. There’s also fish, beef short ribs, Angus burger and a few chicken dishes.
We stuck around long enough for coffee and dessert: While my husband opted for flourless chocolate cake, I had to have Smith Island cake—a gigantic slab of cake, multilayered as is traditional and covered in sweet coconut.
I’d have preferred sharing our delicious supper with a few more people, maybe even those 18th Century travelers stopping for the night. One of them might have even been George Washington. I asked Kelly, who intimated that the great man just may have stopped by.
It was a good place to stop then. And now, 200 years later, it was a lovely spot to get away, even on a rainy summer evening.
Ⓒ Text and photo of dining room Mary K. Tilghman
Exterior shot, courtesy of the inn