Bob Kinkead has described his Annapolis restaurant, Hell Point Seafood, as "Kinkead lite." It's a reference to menu prices, and most likely a strategy for tempering the expectations of those who have dined at his eponymous restaurant in Washington, D.C. There, Kinkead's adherence to his New England roots (think cod, seafood chowder, and lobster rolls) has sustained a solid reputation for going on 30-plus years.
But in a smaller town, where dining dollars—and options—may not be as flush as the District, the Maryland restaurant, which highlights our region's love of seafood, is a welcome addition. And there's nothing "lite" about it. The kitchen, under the able hand of executive chef (and partner) James Huff, formerly sous chef at Kinkead's, presents a colorful array of dishes sparkling with flavors, even as ingredients stay close to home.
The place is still, in some ways, a work in progress. The side part of the building, slated to be razed to make way for a Sailing Hall of Fame, has the feel of a crab and mallet joint, with vinyl tablecloths and wrought-iron chairs reminiscent of your great aunt's terrace. Not much has been changed since the space was occupied by Phillips Seafood.
But climb the stairs to the refurbished dining area, and things begin to make a bit more sense. The room is simple and warm, in shades of beige, with coffered ceilings interspersed with spot lighting, dark wood tables, and Mission-style chairs. It's pared down, for sure, but plenty elegant.
The menu changes daily, though popular dishes tend to stick around. The Thai-inspired mussels are definitely a keeper. Plump and tender mollusks from Maine's Blue Hill Bay rested in a yellow coconut curry broth flavored with lemongrass and ginger, studded with cubes of sweet potato. Another favorite was the stuffed quahogs—chopped clams mixed with salty chorizo and a spritz of lemon, returned to their shells for baking to a crispy finish.
The appetizer list has a crab cake, appropriately. (A larger version also appears with the entrees.) But more exciting to our party (which included two New Englanders) were the Ipswich fried clams, the big-bellied juicy kind.
Along with their fondness for North Atlantic shellfish, chefs Kinkead and Huff seem fascinated with pork, which, in addition to being the only non-seafood main dish on a recent night, appeared in several of the starters. Huff makes his own bacon from pork bellies that hail from a Westminster farm, and sprinkles the salty bits on the signature Hell Point wedge, a trio of crispy miniature iceberg quarters drizzled with lumpy blue-cheese dressing, chopped cherry tomatoes, and red onions.
The asparagus salad likewise had a smack of pancetta. The rectangular plate of fresh asparagus surrounded by fingerling potatoes and verdant pea shoots was probably the prettiest—and most seasonal—presentation of the evening. The dark orange yolk of the poached egg pegged its origin to a happy outdoor chicken—in this case, one from White House Farm in Chestertown.
We stuck to seafood when it came to entrees, though we found that the Portuguese seafood stew satisfied carnivore cravings: Smoky chorizo permeated the dish. The deep red broth, served in an iron skillet, was seasoned with saffron and packed with flaky white fish, mussels, shrimp, and squid.
On the lighter side was the grilled salmon. A bright citrus sauce with wedges of grapefruit and tangerine was the perfect foil to the fillet, while a few slices of avocado added a touch of creaminess.
Similar to the asparagus salad, the rockfish was like spring on a plate. The fish was gently sautéed with shitake mushrooms and asparagus, and topped with pea shoots and a frothy purée of fresh peas and mint.
Desserts included shortcakes with seasonal fruits and a made-to-order apple tarte Tatin. The strawberry shortcake was done right: a dense biscuit (slightly modified with the addition of cornmeal), topped with fresh strawberry ice cream made at Kinkead's.
The Eastern Shore caramel cake was a lovely half-sphere of yellow cake, coated in a caramel glaze, surrounded by sugared pecans and swirls of caramel and chocolate sauce. A whimsical chocolate tuile cookie in the shape of a devil's pitchfork balanced on top.
The über-rich chocolate cake, layered with praline, was covered with a fudgey ganache and dabbed with edible gold dust, as if to underscore its decadence. Instead of a scoop of ice cream to cut the sweetness, a miniature glass of milk was perched on the side of the plate.
When Hell Point Seafood opened last summer, the initial clientele leaned to tourists, or those stepping off their boats from Ego Alley, the nearby waterway that hosts a daily parade of private sailing vessels. But recently, Huff says, an unofficial dining-room survey revealed that the clientele reflects what Hell Point (named for its neighborhood, clearly no longer a seedy waterfront) set out to attract: mostly locals, with ages skewed to more mature diners. It's a place to return to—whether or not you actually live here. We can't wait to visit again and try the New England-style lobster roll.