Inn at Perry’s Cabin, St. Michaels, Maryland – A Review

by artfuldiner on July 24, 2021

in Artful Diner Review, Breaking News, Wining and Dining

Inn at Perry Cabin - ExteriorPerched beside the Miles River, a tributary of Chesapeake Bay, sits a classic white colonial mansion built by Purser Samuel Hambleton and christened the Inn at Perry Cabin. Hambleton, a War of 1812 Navy veteran and aide-de-camp to Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, specifically constructed the Inn to resemble the Commodore’s cabin (“Perry Cabin”) on the flagship USS Niagara.

The property’s identity changed numerous times over the years: from a private home to a working farm, and then to a riding academy. In 1980 Harry Meyerhoff of St. Michaels converted it into a six-room hotel with a small restaurant. In 1989, Sir Bernard Ashley purchased the property and began a two-year expansion that transformed the building into a 41-room luxury hotel.

Orient-Express Hotels acquired the property in May 1999; and, by 2003, completed a $17 million improvement program designed by the architecture firm of Cooper, Robertson & Partners, which included three new buildings and 38 guest suites to bring the total room count from its original 41 to 79. In March 2014, Orient-Express Hotels changed its name to Belmond, and the hotel was renamed Inn at Perry Cabin by Belmond.

Inn At Perry Cabin - Stars RestaurantDuring the latter part of June, my permanent dining partner and I were fortunate enough to escape pandemic blues for three blissful nights at the Inn at Perry Cabin, which has long enjoyed the reputation of being the top hotel on Maryland’s Eastern Shore – and with good reason. The Inn is the home of classic elegance – antique & contemporary furnishings complemented by an uncluttered contemporary décor – beautifully blending faultless professional hospitality with the informal & friendly atmosphere of a traditional inn (pictured, Stars Restaurant).

Through a bit of good luck, and the ministrations of our savvy travel agent, upon arrival, we were upgraded from a deluxe room to a junior suite, which added immeasurably to the pleasure of our stay.

Inn at Perry Cabin -View from our RoomThe room was beautiful, as was the view from our deck (pictured)… but there are also plenty of activities to keep you busy. Modern facilities include an outdoor pool, health club, and fitness center, as well as a Pete Dye-designed golf course and tennis complex by Cliff Drysdale. Of course, there’s always the sailing academy if you’d prefer to explore the waters of Chesapeake Bay. On the other hand, if you’re in the mood, you can just join the tourist brigade exploring the interesting shops and restaurants in St. Michaels.

But on to the food… The Inn at Perry’s Cabin basically offers guests three dining options: Stars (pictured above), their gourmet restaurant, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner; Purser’s Pub, offering a menu of locally-inspired small plates, as well as a collection of rare whiskeys and bourbons; and the High Tide Pool Bar, which we did not visit.

Inn at Perry Cabin - Cheeseboard from Purser's PubThe day of our check-in, we arrived too late to have lunch at Stars, so we decided to pay a call at Purser’s Pub, which opened at 3:00 p.m. The bartender mixes a mean Cosmo – Tito’s Handmade Vodka specified – as my dining partner may clearly attest. My wine of choice was a first-class 2018 Stoller Family Estate Dundee Hills Pinot Noir. Food-wise, we settled on their cheeseboard, which, as you can see from the photograph, was attractively presented, quite generous, and, in turn, thoroughly enjoyable.

Purser’s is the perfect spot for a late lunch, afternoon snack, or simply a relaxing restorative libation in the midst of a busy day. The couches and high-top tables are exceedingly comfortable, the service is attentive and personable, and the food quite good. A great place to chill out.

SStars - Eggs Benedicttars (pictured above), on the other hand, is something of a mixed bag… But let’s begin on a positive note: breakfasts. All three, served on the restaurant’s outdoor patio, were fabulous. And while I contented myself with my usual Scrambled Eggs or Ham & Cheese Omelet, I’m certain my dining partner would say that the highlight of our al fresco dining experiences was the Eggs Benedict, both the Traditional Eggs Benedict and the special Maryland Crab Benedict (pictured), as she enjoyed both (on separate days, of course 😊).

Our one mid-day stop at Stars was a rather late lunch just prior to the restaurant’s 2:00 p.m. closing. Since we didn’t want to spoil our appetite for dinner, we chose one of the “Small Plates to Share,” the Deviled Egg Trio. Each member of the trio was decked out with a different tiara: pickled oyster, crab salad, and smoked salmon. Really quite excellent. Our only minor quibble was that we felt the oyster should have been diced rather than simply deposited en masse.

Food at breakfast and lunch pretty much receives top marks. Dinner… is more problematic. For starters, Stars dinner menu is extremely limited. All but one of the five appetizers, for example – including two expensive supplemental items – are seafood. In addition, there are only five main courses listed on the printed menu, three of these are seafood accompanied by Jurgielewicz Family Duck and Roseda Beef Commodore Steak. Only three desserts are offered; one is dairy free.

Stars - Ocean City Dayboat ScallopsMy dining partner, however, was quite content with her starter of Ocean City Dayboat Scallops (pictured) and entrée of Maryland Crab Cakes, two of her favorite dishes. The bivalves were beautifully seared, companioned by white asparagus, Parisian gnocchi, and egg yolk; the golden-brown crab cakes were all crab, teamed with house-made pasta, and garnished with basil, black pepper, and Woodbine cheese.

Stars - Walk Around the Garden SaladMy choices, or so it seemed, were not quite as edifying… To start things off, I selected the one non-seafood entry among the appetizers. The Walk Around the Garden Salad was a potpourri of beets, carrots, cucumber, tomato, burrata cheese, foraged herbs, and lobster. And, as you will note from the photograph, a rather striking presentation. I thought it a bit on the self-conscious artsy-fartsy side. But, the pivotal question: Was the salad good…? Yes, it was. Quite good, in fact… But not as good as its presentation led me to believe. A triumph of form over substance.

Stars - Yellowfin TunaIt was my entrée, though, the Wittman Wharf Yellowfin Tuna, that proved to be the major disappointment of the evening. There was certainly nothing wrong with the tuna itself… Locally sourced from Wittman Wharf Seafood in Wittman, Maryland, it was in a pristine state of health and also prepared precisely as specified – medium rare.

Even the accompaniment – a blend of ancient grains (grains that have never been processed through hybridization or genetic modification, but are grown just as they were a thousand years ago; grains such as quinoa, black rice, millet, spelt, etc.) and morel mushrooms – proved a perfect match for the meaty tuna… No, the problem was that damn pea & ramp emulsion. It was – and there is no other word for it – downright bizarre. Not that the emulsion was too assertive… Quite the contrary. It was so utterly bland, so innocuous that it bestowed the kiss of death upon anything it touched; in this case, completely smothering an otherwise marvelously flavorful tuna steak in an appallingly insipid gastronomic shroud. If some marriages were made in heaven… this one was made in… well, you get the idea.

On the other hand, desserts, though extremely limited, were a high point. My dining partner decided upon the Summer Cherry Smith Island Cake while I had a go at the Speculoos Lava Cake.

Stars - Summer Cherry Smith Island CakeEffective October 1, 2008, the iconic Smith Island Cake became the state dessert of Maryland. Traditionally, this cake consists of eight to ten layers of yellow cake with chocolate frosting between each layer as well as slathered over the whole. Through the years, however, many variations of the recipe have evolved, both in the flavors for frosting and for the cake itself. The variation served at Stars, for example, consists of almond cake infused with honey, Smooth Sails Cheese (a fromage blanc style cheese with an assertive tang made by Chapel’s Country Creamery in Easton, Maryland), and topping of tart orchard cherries.

Stars - Speculoos Lava CakeThe ingredients in my dessert choice also enjoyed a rather interesting history… Speculaas or its variant, Speculoos, is a type of spiced shortcrust biscuit traditionally baked on or just before St. Nicholas’ day in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg and around Christmas in Germany and Austria.  The modern version of speculaas, including my Speculoos Lava Cake is made from white wheat flour, brown sugar, cookie butter, and spices. Banana & meringue offer attractive garnishes, and the Lava is courtesy of dulce de leche, also known as “caramelized milk” or “milk jam” in English. This is a Latin American confection prepared by slowly heating sugar and milk over a period of several hours. The result is a sauce-like consistency that is rich in color and flavor… and totally irresistible.

The bottom line…? My dining partner and I have decidedly mixed emotions about Stars. We love the elegant ambience and the beautiful view. The service, at least as we have experienced it, appears to be up to mark. But the cuisine – specifically at dinner – has significant ups and downs. Given the picturesque setting – and the picturesque prices – it simply isn’t all that it could be… or should be.

The three-course chef’s dinner tasting menu, for example, will set you back $95.00 per person (not including beverages, tax and gratuity). Even breakfast will cost you dearly… That Maryland Crab Benedict my dining partner oohed and aahed over, for instance, will put a hefty $34.00 dent in your wallet. You’ve obviously moved into the culinary high rent district. And, therefore, you expect the cuisine to be commensurate with those lofty tariffs. Well, sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. The kitchen can be schizophrenic… Remember that pea & ramp emulsion defiling my tuna…? QED.

Interestingly enough, if you check out Stars’ reviews on Yelp and Tripadvisor, even those people who soundly trashed the restaurant for various reasons had nothing but praise for the Inn itself. And my dining partner and I couldn’t be more in agreement. My criticisms of Stars dinner cuisine notwithstanding, we would gladly return to the Inn at Perry Cabin at a moment’s notice. As I mentioned at the outset, our stay was exceedingly pleasurable, and we both recommend it highly.

By the way, you certainly will not go hungry here, as there are many fine restaurants in the St. Michaels area. During our stay at the Inn, my dining partner and I visited two, Awful Arthur’s Seafood Company in St. Michaels and Bas Rouge in nearby Easton, which I critique in separate reviews.

Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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