And so Season 3 began. Fitting that we start with Annapolis, MD for this little town was where Cheap Eats was “born”. In the winter of 2014, days before Christmas, I flew out to Annapolis to shoot what would become the inspiration for Cheap Eats: a 10 minute short of Ali Khan literally eating Annapolis, with crab on the brain, #crabcakedestiny if you will. For a town that just ain’t that big, the food is unforgettable and it really does start with the seafood. Crab cakes abound but so does a touch of the South. This is Maryland after all, the Northern most state of the South so finding biscuits and gravy, shrimp and grits and warm smiles is just all part of doing Cheap Eats business around here. Well, onto it right? Let’s sink into some Cheap Eats Annapolis!
the spot: Grump’s Cafe 117 Hillmere Dr Annapolis MD 21403
the eats: “Cat Head” Biscuits and Gravy
the bucks: $6.29
the full nelson: a legit southern breakfast in a laid back East Coast diner
Look, even I scratched my head when I read the words “Cat Head” next to “biscuits and gravy”, but after being assured that the gravy was a pork sausage base, well, I was ready to get my Cheap Eats on. The recipe comes from Deena Brabury’s family who hail from the deep south, but what really drew me to this place was just being around husband and wife team Deena and Duncan. It takes all of 30 seconds to recognize that these two are very much still in love, which is no small feat considering they work together too. Long before Grump’s opened its doors, Deena and Duncan worked at a food service company that unfortunately showed them the door. Reeling but not defeated, they would soon open up their own restaurant and named it Grump’s in honor of the unpropitious circumstance that brought them there. Maybe it was destiny for Deena and Duncan to open Grump’s but things didn’t always seem that way. Business was slow those first few years until a bad storm hit this side of Annapolis. Homes lost power. Shops and restaurants were damaged and remained closed for days. Somehow Grump’s was able to weather the storm and literally fed this part of town while the rest was being repaired. The storm put Grump’s on the map and business picked up ever since. Here is a fun fact: the servers wear pajamas at Grump’s. Now that is a dress code policy I can get behind. Especially with a plate of biscuits and gravy, the size of a cat’s head, for under $7.
the spot: Soul 509 S. Cherry Grove Annapolis MD 21403
the eats: Chicken and Dumplings
the bucks: $9
the full nelson: Chicken and Dumplings from the guy named the best Chef of Annapolis 2017. Seriously.
When I first met Dave Pow over a FaceTime call, he told me hush hush and on the QT that he was named best Chef of Annapolis in 2017 and of course we couldn’t mention that as the publication had not released their list. Well now it is time. Generally speaking on a day of Cheap Eats, you really want to get lunch for under $10, ideally $8 is the ceiling. Exceptions are made when you stumble upon a restaurant like Soul because this lunch is as as good as any dinner you are gonna find in the Cheap Eats world. Again the south seems to leave a culinary mark in Maryland and frankly the shrimp and grits I sampled had me thinking I was back in Charleston. Dave Pow is a serious chef and humble guy but that didn’t stop me from trying to decipher all his chef techniques he uses in the kitchen. Chicken and Dumplings should evoke images of classic comfort food Americana but in the hands of a chef like Dave Pow, you quickly understand why so many chefs covet the simple yet divine classics like roasted chicken. The true measure of a chef is how you can elevate the familiar without lavish ingredient or molecular gastronomy tom foolery. This is just good old fashioned hard work and good ingredients served up on a Cheap Eats budget. And the guy was named the best Chef in town. Not bad for $9.
the spot: Bean Rush Cafe 112A Annapolis St. Annapolis MD 21401
the eats: Strawberry Lamington
the bucks: $2.59
the full nelson: a sweet treat from the land down under that landed in Annapolis
Once again Cheap Eats Annapolis serves up a lovely couple with a passion for food and drink. In this case the drink is the primary draw for most visitors at Red Bean Cafe: the coffee. Mark Abrams is the man behind the espresso machine and technically since he is from the land down under, he is also the reason behind my snack. Lamingtons are an Aussie tradition: sponge cake coated in a strawberry sauce and then rolled in coconut. However Mark doesn’t make them. His American wife Shannon does and apparently she learned from Mark’s mom, which makes her Lamingtons as legit as Fosters or shrimp on a barbie. One of the things I love about food is how it can transport you to a far flung corner of the world and suddenly you are experiencing not just something new to eat but a new culture and people to experience. What struck me the most about the Lamington was not the flavor, which let’s face it, sponge cake is pretty familiar to the American palate, but that it was a food that Mark grew up on, became homesick for and now is making them in Annapolis of all places. I would love to journey to Australia some day, throw some shrimp on the barbie, see if Paul Hogan is as big a deal as I think he is. In the meantime $2.59 for a Lamington is a lot cheaper than a flight to Melbourne. I even looked on Kayak too. It costs a lot.
the spot: Boatyard Bar and Grill 112A Annapolis St. Annapolis MD 21401
the eats: Crab Cake Sandwich
the bucks: $15.99
the full nelson: all killer and no filler. an absolute beast of a crab cake sandwich
George Betz is a character and I ought to know because I am one too. I could tell you about how he grew up crabbing on the shores of Maryland or how he has been manning the stoves as a fine dining chef for decades but I really want to tell you about just how funny and fun this guy is. He dropped the “try the veal” line on us while shooting the cooking segment and he pulled it off like a pro Catskills comedian would. The motto at Boatyard for their crab cake is “all killer, no filler” but what that also means is that the crab cake can easily fall apart because it is not burdened with binder. Betz instructed me to “massage it gently like a baby bird”. The baby bird line stuck with us all season, in fact that became my nick name. Spending almost $20 for a sandwich gets into that whole lobster roll territory but you know what? That’s the territory we are in. Crab ain’t cheap and you get a lotta crab for your buck here: 6oz of it and it was absolute bliss. Having George crack a few jokes was the cherry on the sundae. Well maybe he was the whole Sundae. Come for crab and stay for a set of George Betz!
the spot: The Point Crab House and Grill 700 Mill Creek Rd Arnold MD 21012
the eats: Crab Cake Sandwich
the bucks: $17
the full nelson: crab with a view and some nostalgia for where Cheap Eats all began
The Point Crab House and Grill was the very first restaurant I shot in with a full TV crew, in a presentation shown only to the folks at Cooking Channel. Two and a half years ago I walked into that kitchen and my heart was racing, my mind trying to grasp how a 10 year journey had finally brought me to a point where I was actually shooting my own food show. Of course when Cheap Eats returned to Annapolis, I had to go back and eat. Shooting this episode was my second time here but believe me I have eaten enough crab to call myself a permanent resident, or at least an illegal alien. Lobster gets all the love but IMO a good crab cake sandwich can stack up to a lobster roll, any day of the week. Now the one I had at Boatyard was a beast, but there is certainly room in this town for multiple crab cake stops. The Point’s crab cake sammy reminds me of those NYC pub burgers: super thick where you might want to loosen your jaw in preparation for the first bite. Like Boatyard, expect a crab cake that is more crab than cake, which also means a hefty price tag: $17. Look you can get ’em cheaper but not with crab from the Chesapeake Bay – that comes at a premium. When we shot at the Point I was informed of the Chesapeake Bay’s commitment to sustainability which means not overfishing, which means less catch, which means a high price tag. You feel the sting in your wallet when the check lands on the table but it also means your kids will be able to enjoy the same bounties of the sea that you do. Even some not so Cheap Eats are worth it.
And that’s just the beginning. This season is going to criss cross the country while making more than a few pit stops in the middle. The Cheap Eats journey really did start in Annapolis and it is fitting that this episode became the most watched episode to date. Thank you Annapolis – you fed me well and you are keeping the Cheap Eats dream going strong!