Saphron Restaurant at the Old Field Inn
The cold weather arrived early this year. Temps in the mid-20s and wind gusts to 40 knots. This is a perfect time of year to head south to Prince Frederick, Maryland and Saphron Restaurant for a dose of warm hospitality and great southern cuisine. Whether you opt for their signature low country offerings – gumbo, crab cakes, shrimp and grits, Miss Rosa’s fried chicken and James Island style shrimp – or their generous serving of lamb shank (that evenings special), you just can’t go wrong.
I met some friends at Saphron for a nice leisurely dinner on a Friday night. We were greeted by owner Charlene Obal and gathered at the small bar for a drink and catch-up conversation. On this particular evening, as is often the case, Charlene had ditched her beautiful evening wardrobe and was attired in her chef outfit for serious working, but did take the time to spend a few minutes talking with our party.
The place was buzzing this evening but, because of the layout of the building, it was difficult to determine how many people were in the restaurant. The Old Field House was built in the 1890’s and, in 1927, became the home of Dr. Everard Briscoe, the head of one of Calvert County’s most prominent families. Today this home serves as the restaurant and is made up of 4 separate dining areas on the first floor with additional rooms upstairs, thus creating intimate dining areas without a large room feel. Charlene’s roots go back to Charleston, South Carolina and she has brought her sense of low country cooking and southern hospitality to an elegant inn in Calvert County.
We started out with soup and appetizers. One person in our party ordered the low country Gumbo consisting of tender shrimp with rice and collard greens. Watching his cholesterol, he opted not to have the rice. The serving was generous and very tasty. I ordered the French onion soup, which is something that I cannot pass up. Loaded with caramelized onions, and simmered in a beef broth, the soup was one of the best since I first tasted French onion soup in Montreal. The cheese topping the offering was not as much as I was used to, however I learned that there was just enough not to take away from the flavor of the soup itself. On the specials menu for probably the last time this season since they use locally sourced fruit and vegetables, were fried green tomatoes. My guest couldn’t pass up the opportunity to order them. They were “perfect” in that the coating was nice and light and they were fried to perfection. No oily residue left on the plate with these. Keep them in mind for next spring!
For my main entrée I had the Bronzini, an imported Mediterranean Sea bass. This was a delightful fish and was served whole over perfectly cooked kale and tomatoes with a lemon caper and tarragon sauce. Beware of the bones in a whole fish, but the flavor was excellent. Another in our party ordered the gumbo as an entrée. This selection was, as a gumbo should be, spicy but not overly “hot” with lots of shrimp, okra, tomatoes and everything else one needs for these cold evenings. The rice and collard greens that were layered on top were the crowning touch.
The lamb shank was one of the specials that night and was being served over a generous amount of smashed sweet potatoes. Our friend, once again considering his cholesterol, chose to substitute the potatoes with sautéed yellow squash and spinach. The serving was not only cooked to perfection but was large enough, that about half went home with him for consumption the next day.
We didn’t have one of Charlene’s signature dishes on this trip but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it – the “Crispy Flounder”. It is a whole flounder scored and prepared with “secret spices” and an apricot glaze that is deep fried to perfection. It is served with your choice of sides and comes in both single servings and servings for two. Don’t be afraid of the “deep fried” method at Saphron, they know how to make it right.
We were all too full at the end of meal, but memories of my mother’s pecan pie made me order a slice for all to share. I ordered a two full pies for Thanksgiving to take to my brothers house…it is that good. The sweet syrupy filling I remember in my mom’s pie was subdued in this version and it is literally “loaded” with pecans. The combination made this the best I have ever eaten. This pie also has a graham cracker crust base. Charlene also brought us a sampling of the bourbon balls that she has made by a local baker during the holidays. These will be making an appearance at our guests holiday gatherings as he plans to put an order in for several dozen. Although we didn’t try it, we understand that the $10,000,000 Southern Bread Pudding is to absolutely die for!
There isn’t enough room in this column to really do Saphron’s menu justice. Do yourself a favor and check out their ad in the Bay Section of the issue and their website at saphronrestaurant.com for a complete menu as well as history and directions. It is about a 45-minute drive from Alexandria and 25 minutes from Solomons, Maryland. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
~ Written by: Bob Tagert