Dining Out: Donnelly’s Dockside

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By Mary Cobbler

I’ve lived in Maryland for the majority of my life, but there are certain things I never get tired of experiencing: crabs overloaded with Old Bay and butter, the excitement in the air after a Ravens or Orioles game, the magic of the Annapolis harbor in the summertime — but one of my favorite things is enjoying a seafood dinner at one of the many gorgeous marinas in our area.

Donnelly’s Dockside, located at 1050 Deep Creek Avenue in Arnold, is one of those desirable waterfront locations. The nautical-themed restaurant sits directly on Deep Creek. Natural light spills through the many tall windows that surround the dining room interior, providing a beautiful panoramic view of the bay from any of the roomy wooden tables upstairs or the colorful bar downstairs. A large patio, filled with a variety of tables and wide umbrellas, sits over the water, bringing diners up close to the plethora of boats stationed there.

A hostess led me outside to the patio during the Monday evening dinner hour. I enjoyed watching osprey dive into the water around me as I waited for my husband and kids to arrive.

There were a few boisterous patrons who were dining nearby, and because I knew I would have my kids with me, I asked to be relocated to a table inside. I share this story to say that the wait staff handled the issue in a professional and helpful way. Nearly every member of the wait staff stopped by our table to apologize, including a manager. Overall, we were impressed by how everything was handled.

Once we were reseated, it was time to dive into the food! We came during happy hour, so all the appetizers — along with several wine and beer options — were half-priced. Upon the waitress’s recommendation, we chose the macho nachos to start with. She steered us right! The nachos at Donnelly’s rank several notches above standard nacho appetizers. The chips were warm and chewy with crisped edges; they were also laden with layer after layer of toppings all throughout — grilled chicken cubes, nacho cheese, jalapeno cream sauce, sliced jalapenos, sliced black olives, guacamole and sour cream — so that each chip had a healthy burst of flavor and texture. My husband and I started dinner under the pretense that we would maintain our diets during the meal, but that goal went out the window as we polished off every last topping-covered chip.

Most of the entrees on the menu included some kind of seafood, including the sugar cane sea scallops, haddock Veracruz, seafood penne, and, of course, locally sourced blue crabs. Several waitresses mentioned the crab cake dinner (two crab cakes with two sides), so I felt compelled to try it, and my husband ordered the Deep Creek chicken (another house specialty). My kids ordered a burger patty and corn dog from the children’s menu, and I have to credit our server for being understanding of my younger son’s Celiac disease issues. The server promised that the staff would carefully prepare my son’s food to prevent any reactions. They seemed willing to work with any allergy issues, which is a big deal for families like mine.

The food came out quickly and looked appetizing. I tried the Deep Creek chicken first and was surprised at how decadent the dish was. The chicken is panko-breaded and fried, and it’s stuffed with crab meat, spinach and tomato. The generous-sized chicken breast is situated on top of creamy mashed potatoes and doused generously in Chesapeake hollandaise sauce (I couldn’t really taste the “Chesapeake” in the sauce; it was good, but it tasted like classic hollandaise to me). The dish had a terrific texture — crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside — and several delectable taste dimensions. The creamy sauce meshed well with the soft crab meat, vegetables and potatoes. It’s the kind of dish you feel guilty eating, but not guilty enough to stop.

The crab cakes were baseball-sized, slightly crispy on the outside, and full of lump crab meat with little filler. The texture was great, and Donnelly’s left nothing to be desired as far as the quality of meat, but the taste was, unfortunately, blander than I would prefer in my seafood. The crab cakes, along with the steamed asparagus and French fries that we ordered as sides, were perfectly cooked and generously sized, but all of them needed more spices and flavor overall.

The Deep Creek chicken was still sitting in my stomach when it was time to order dessert, but that didn’t stop a sugar-lover like me. The dessert menu includes a mini key lime cheesecake, a chocolate torte, ice cream, and crème brulee. The creme brulee was the only dessert that was prepared in-house (everything else is ordered in), so we ordered it. The custard was creamy and satisfying, and the hardened sheet of caramelized sugar added a crunchy, full-mouth finishing touch to the meal.

Two entrees, two children’s meals, an appetizer, a soft drink and a dessert came out to $87. The waitress told us we could have ordered a bunch of half-price appetizers and saved money, so we will probably try that next time!

If you enjoy fresh, well-cooked food in a pretty setting, try Donnelly’s Dockside (and don’t forget to order the nachos).

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