The EatingEaston group highlight the Maryland town's gourmet bona fides for vacationers in the area.
Every summer, hundreds of thousands of tourists buzz down Route 50 on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, their minds focused on the sun, surf and sand awaiting them once they reach the ocean. Many never veer off the main highway to check out the small towns and rural scenery along the way. But a husband and wife in Easton, Maryland, are hoping to change that.
They've just launched EatingEaston, a walking tour of some of their town’s best restaurants. They say Easton is punching above its weight when it comes to dining, and they want to help make the community a destination for foodies.
“We were visiting San Diego, and we ran into these foodie tours, and we thought, ‘This is just perfect for us,’” says Eating Easton co-founder Kathy Bernard. “It’s just a great way to raise awareness and drive people to our restaurants and our stores and that kind of thing.”
The tour begins
More than half a dozen hungry folks came along on one of their tours, beginning at Out of the Fire, a restaurant in Easton’s historic downtown. Owner Amy Haines welcomes them with glasses of rosé as waiters arrive with the food.
“Today we're going to do some house-made ciabatta, some goat cheese, some house-made tomato jam, and then finish with a little basil,” she says.
The group dives into the food and drink, and as they're chewing, Haines gets a chance to discuss her restaurant’s philosophy.
“I’ve been in business for 14 years, and my mission is to try to support as many local and organic producers and as many small businesses as I possibly can,” she says.
After polishing off the ciabatta and wine, and they're off to the next stop on the tour. The Bernards are wearing EatingEaston t-shirts and carrying big signs attached to wooden sticks, just like the guides you might see on the National Mall. You'd never guess they started working on this enterprise less than two months ago.
So far, their tours seem to be a hit, attracted both visitors and longtime residents, like Paul Sharp and his wife, Peggy.
“We love to go out and eat, and the restaurants here in this area are just outstanding, so it was just like, ‘Why not?’” says Peggy Sharp.
At Scossa, chef Giancarlo Tondin whips up specialties from his native northern Italy. (EatingEaston)
Stop No. 2
The second stop on the tour is a stately buttercup-yellow mansion called the Inn at 202 Dover. Owners Ron and Shelby Mitchell, who serve up neon-blue cocktails and generous servings of foie gras topped with microgreens.
Once eating the group gets to visit the kitchen, where chef Doug Potts is sliding an Eastern Shore staple — crab cakes — off a cooking pan and onto plates. These aren't just any crab cakes — they're layered on top of a corn maque choux, a Cajun-Creole version of creamed corn.
“It takes about two hours to make just that,” he tells the group, which demolishes his hard work within seconds.
Potts is an Eastern Shore native, and says the food scene here has changed a lot in recent years.
“There were only a handful of restaurants up to about 10 years ago, maybe a little bit longer, 12 years ago, other than on the highway. And the scene’s really evolved quite a bit,” he says. “And not to mention that you have St. Michaels and Oxford, which are really close, 10 minutes here, 10 minutes there. So within that little triangle there are really strong chefs and great restaurants, and it really could be a destination for people who want food, good food.”
Stop No. 3
More good food is just around the corner at our third stop on the tour: the Bartlett Pear Inn.
Jordan Lloyd, the chef and owner, greets the group at the door. Lloyd trained at Citronelle in D.C. and Per Se in New York. But it’s back here in his hometown that he truly honed his passion for food.
The tour group is greeted with cocktails and foie gras at the Inn at 202 Dover.
“I worked in some really fancy high-end restaurants. And when I came back home I wasn't really a farm-to-table chef at all,” he says. “It was really my hometown that instilled the importance of buying local and working for your community. The whole farm-to-table concept, as we see it, doesn't stop at the ingredients, it’s really bringing the community into your business and putting your business into the community. It’s that whole symbiotic relationship.”
Farms dot the landscape all around this town, and the bounty of those farms can be seen at the Marketplace, a renovated brick building where vendors sell local delights like juicy red tomatoes and vibrant orange squash, among other delicacies. After pausing to chow down on barbequed brisket sandwiches and chilled cucumber avocado soup. Amazingly, there are still two more stops on this tour.
“You know what’s really fun, towards the end of the tour, I’ve got to tell you, our guests start to slow down a little bit,” says Kathy Bernard.
Let’s not sugar-coat it: The group is waddling at this point. The next stop is at the Washington Street Pub for “Three Little Pigs” — sandwiches made of ground wild boar, pulled pork, and bacon. Then they head to Scossa, an airy Italian restaurant, for fresh pasta stuffed with gorgonzola cheese.
Tour complete, full bellies
Finally, pushing their way back out into the sunlight, bellies first, and the tour pauses on the sidewalk to reflect on the experience. Out-of-towners Kirby and Colleen Scott of Hagerstown are all smiles.
“We've been to a lot of towns the size of Easton,” says Colleen. “And I was telling Kathy earlier, one of the greatest things about this is when we find ourselves going to a new town, we don't know where to eat, and we don't know a lot of the history. And this combines both, so it was really a great experience."
The Scotts say they still aren't ready to declare any of the restaurants on today’s tour their favorite in Easton. But they're looking forward to the repeat visits needed to make that assessment.
Music: "Rye Whiskey" by the Punch Brothers from Antifogmatic