By Lani Gering
The Wharf – Quality Seafood in a Nautical Setting
The Wharf has been one of Old Town Alexandria’s iconic dining establishments since 1971. Residing in the same block as the other two icons – Landini Brothers and Fish Market – the Wharf maintains a true seaport vibe. The restaurant comes with much history. The bar and the main floor are housed in 1790’s style architecture that includes original wood columns and beams that are charred from a fire that took place during the Civil War. That in itself is a good reason to visit this eatery.
For those of you who have been frequenting Old Town for the last 25-30 years, you might remember the funky second floor that was home to one big bar with one little bartender, Sammy T, and music provided by some of the best local talent around. The likes of Al Williams, Mary Ann Redmond, Mary Blankemeier, the late Roger Henderson and a host of others entertained us nightly. It was definitely THE place to go for music “back in the day”. In the late 1990’s, the ownership changed and the second floor was converted into the beautiful space that it is today. I have to admit that I still miss my Monday nights on the second floor but the revamp was a good idea and has proven to be a good move.
The décor is warm and inviting and the nautical theme sets a great stage for the many seafood dishes that they serve up on a daily basis. Like most restaurants of this caliber these days, they have a nice Specialty Cocktail menu and a very well-rounded wine list. The price points are commensurate with others in the area and are one of the few that offer half bottles. They also have a “Featured Wine of the Month” at a good price. This is a good way to sample a wine that you may not necessarily pay attention to otherwise. They aren’t all twisted up in the Craft Beer craze but have something for every beer connoisseur out there. The night bar is under the guidance of our longtime friend Miguel who serves a great vodka gimlet.
Let’s get to the food. I won’t bore you with a recitation of the menu since you can see it in its entirety on their website, however, I want to touch on some highlights. Both the lunch and dinner menu are easy to read and are divided into sections. The dinner menu is much more descriptive in that the Wharf Classics and Wharf Specialties are separate from the rest of the entrees. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the live lobster tank and the steakhouse offerings. You also have the option of combining those two on one plate if you select something from the Steak & Shellfish Combo menu.
A warm basket of bread and whipped butter are served upon seating. The key word in that last sentence is “warm”. It makes a big difference to me. Experience has taught us to share an appetizer instead of ordering two and then not being able to finish the rest of the meal so we settled on the scallops wrapped in bacon with a maple-soy glaze and spicy onion crisps from the hot appetizer menu. This is a fantastic combination of scallops, bacon and onion rings (sliced very thin and fried perfectly). The sweet and salty flavor that the maple-soy glaze adds is a great final touch. And…how can you go wrong if bacon is involved? This was plenty for two people.
I picked my entrée from the Wharf Specialties menu – Horseradish Crusted Maine Salmon with fresh asparagus and a honey citrus beurre blanc sauce. I have to admit that I OD’d myself with salmon, sourdough bread and chardonnay in the mid 80’s so haven’t ordered salmon in quite some time. The horseradish crust and beurre blanc sauce caught my attention and I decided to give it a whirl. I am glad I did. The portion is substantial and it was cooked to order. I also love fresh asparagus so it was good all around. BT picked his entrée from the Wharf Classic menu – Stuffed Chesapeake Flounder with crawfish-crab imperial and crab butter cream sauce. Having had a memorable experience with stuffed flounder in his younger days, Bob is always on the search for something comparable. He wasn’t disappointed with the Wharf’s version. The fish was tender and flaky; the crawfish/crab stuffing was very tasty and a nice combination. The portion on this plate was just right. Each entrée is served with a choice of side which makes for a lot of food. If you have a hearty appetite you won’t be disappointed.
Dessert is something that we don’t normally order unless we are dining for a review and I am really glad we did this time. Neither of us are big chocolate eaters so decided on the Wharf’s version of Key Lime “Chess” Pie with raspberry coulis and whipped cream. It was worth every calorie for sure!
Make it a point to visit this fine establishment for lunch or dinner; they also have brunch on Sunday and now have Happy Hour Sundays through Thursdays from 4-7 at the bar!
Reservations for dinner are suggested.
119 King Street
Old Town Alexandria