I loved dining in my grandmother’s kitchen. Every meal was a feast as she coaxed absolutely divine flavors from the ingredients she had either grown herself or sourced from the neighbors.
So imagine my delight when I learned that The Kitchen at The Imperial had opened its doors in Chestertown.
This Kitchen is not the diminutive establishment it was in Rock Hall, where the popular restaurant first opened with just 18 tables inside and 14 outside. Recruited by The Imperial’s owners, self-taught chefs Steve and Monica Quigg pulled up stakes and moved their business into Chestertown at the end of November and are now making their mark on High Street downtown.
The Imperial Hotel is one of those delightful grand dames that harkens to a bygone era. This elegant three-story building is graced with wide verandas that stretch right up to the edge of the sidewalk. It seems sure that the original owners wanted a view of the Chester River just a block down the street. The second floor of the hotel now houses the law offices of owner Steve Meehan and the top floor is home to his mother and co-owner Kathryn Meehan. Only three rooms remain open to overnight guests, but The Kitchen occupies The Imperial’s entire first floor, with 77 seats inside and 40 outside.
The Imperial, Reimagined
A long corridor with wood floors runs from the front door to the atrium, with a collection of dining rooms on either side. A cozy bar featuring a tapas menu sits just to the right as you enter, with the main dining room on the left. There is occasional art on the walls in the bar, but the main dining room is blissfully spare, with a single gold-framed mirror, taupe walls and black wainscoting. Enormous windows in both bar and dining room give diners a view of the activity on High Street.
Diners who want to peek in the bustling kitchen need only walk down the hall. Chef Quigg had a service window installed that allows servers to pick up orders and guests to see the inner workings of the kitchen. Across the hall, there’s an intimate dining room that’s perfect for special occasions and a chef’s table. When the weather warms, the atrium will open to guests, as will the front porch. The ground floor of the carriage house is reserved for catered events.
On the Menu
The flavors of the Chesapeake infuse The Kitchen’s menu. Crab and oysters feature prominently, as do fresh seasonal produce choices. Our server boasted about the jumbo lump crab cakes, so we were compelled to give them a try. As promised, they were tasty and accompanied by a flavorful roasted-tomato remoulade. They were so good that we’re anxious to try them again when crabs are actually in season. The beef was cooked as ordered, but the roasted Brussels sprouts, the seasonal vegetable, added nothing to the plate.
From the small plate menu, house-cut parmesan fries were crispy and cheesy, though they lacked the promised truffle oil flavor. The short ribs had a marvelous flavor and were served with a butternut squash puree. The fried oysters were breaded with a heavy hand, but turned out to be quite good.
There’s no question the meal’s crowning moment came with the delivery of dessert. The Kitchen’s chocolate bread pudding with white chocolate sauce won rave reviews when it debuted at the Rock Hall location, winning best dessert three years in a row in a regional “best of” competition. Generous enough to share, it was celebrated by even the non-chocolate lovers at the table, who abandoned crème brulee and house-made ice cream in favor of the bread pudding.
Make Mine Brunch!
In addition to the dinner menu, The Kitchen serves lunch every day except Tuesday. But if you’re going to make a special trip to Chestertown to try The Kitchen, you might start with Sunday brunch, which is anchored by a make-your-own Bloody Mary Bar.
The actual bar becomes a mixologist’s lab stocked with an assortment of ingredients used for concocting the perfect Bloody Mary. Guests can choose from four juices; from the horseradish-infused house tomato to crabato. Accouterments include blue cheese-stuffed olives, tomolives (pickled green tomatoes), celery stalks and pearl onions, as well as Worcestershire, a row of hot sauces and a bowl of Old Bay. Guests may choose from almost a dozen different vodkas.
The breakfast menu features standards such as Eggs Benedict, a quiche of the day and made-to-order omelets. You can also order salads, shrimp and grits, or fish and chips. You can’t possibly go home hungry.
According to The Kitchen’s website, the establishment’s goal is to have you, “Arrive as guests and leave as friends.” That’s a tall order when the restaurant is large and the pace is hectic. But you will see Chef Quigg circling through the restaurant, greeting guests and making quality assessments. His staff is well trained and able to handle special requests. With all this in mind, these picky eaters are sure to return soon and often.
The Kitchen at The Imperial: 208 High Street, Chestertown; 410-778-5000 or imperialchestertown.com. Hours: 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays through Saturdays; 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays.