Getting the Catch of The Day, Minus the Hassle

Posted May 7, 2008 at 5:13pm

Warmer weather brings everything to bloom, from the flowers that decorate the Capitol grounds to the staffers who have been cooped up all winter. As Washingtonians enjoy the outdoors with jogs along the National Mall and baseball games at brand new Nationals Park, they also can celebrate spring and summer at one of the many restaurants in the area that offer delicious seafood and, in some cases, outdoor seating.

Cantina Marina (600 Water St. SW) is one of a few spots close to the Capitol that provide true waterfront dining. Located on top of the Washington Channel at the Southwest waterfront’s Gangplank Marina, Cantina Marina is like spring break for overworked staffers, who can turn their gaze to the golf course at Hains Point across the way or to the yachts docked nearby as they sip frothy margaritas and cold beers.

The food at Cantina Marina is not quite as known as its view, but the menu does offer appetizers of peel-and-eat shrimp and fried oysters, as well as Cajun-inspired entrees like blackened salmon and shrimp creole. With Nationals Park just a nine-block walk down the seawall, Cantina Marina is also a good pregame spot for baseball fans.

Nestled behind the Department of Education and underneath the Southwest Freeway is the Market Inn (200 E St. SW), a family-run seafood spot that has been open since the Eisenhower administration. The dark brick building sits away from the waterfront, but the restaurant’s menu is heavy on Chesapeake specialties, from soft-shell crabs and she crab soup to freshly caught brook trout, a fish abundant on the Eastern Shore. Dinner customers enjoy live piano music every night, and weekends bring a taste of the South with a New Orleans-style jazz brunch.

[IMGCAP(1)]Those looking for a faster seafood fix might try the Market Lunch, a no-frills counter that has been a staple of Eastern Market since 1978. The Market Lunch is strictly old-school, accepting cash only and serving up fried food in red plastic baskets to customers who can sit at the 30-seat communal counter for only as long as their sandwich lasts.

Priced just right for a staffer’s salary, the Market Lunch offers crab cake sandwiches for $7.95, and for a few dollars more, a fresh haddock sandwich that a sign next to the register promises is “Possibly the best fish sandwich you ever ate!!!” The haddock is shipped down from Boston every day, and the crab cakes, soft-centered and with a kiss of spice, are made from a secret recipe that owner Tom Glasgow would only say is “Eastern-Shore style.”

Heading Downstream

If you’re looking for a real getaway, a scenic drive down the George Washington Parkway will bring you to Alexandria’s Indigo Landing (1 Marina Drive), an upscale seafood restaurant surrounded by docked sailboats and not much else. The Dangerfield Island-location is a six-mile jaunt from the Hill, but the tranquil atmosphere makes it feel much farther. To remind you, the outdoor deck and bar area offer sweeping views of the Capitol and the Washington Monument. The broad menu includes traditional seafood choices, salads and grilled entrees such as steak sandwiches and mini burgers.

The Palisades neighborhood of Washington, just past Georgetown, also is home to specialty seafood restaurants against the backdrop of the Potomac. Black Salt Fish Market and Bar (4883 MacArthur Blvd. NW) is a high-end spot that serves seasonal seafood fare to its mostly neighborhood customers.

Customers will find a full-service fresh fish market, tended by Fishmonger Scott Weinstein and stocked with traditional and exotic seafood. The restaurant includes a stainless steal raw bar with freshly shucked oysters and daily drink specials, a 65-person dining room decorated in creams and browns and a tasting room that offers six courses for $85. Like the less-expensive Market Inn, Black Salt boasts a jazz brunch on Sundays with popular menu items, including a fried oyster and scrambled egg po’boy and bacon wrapped gulf shrimp salad.

A few blocks up MacArthur is the DC Boat House (5441 MacArthur Blvd. NW), a more casual place popular with Palisades residents, including top-ranked government officials, Members and television anchors. Owner Bill Economids keeps the atmosphere homey and relaxed, and the menu is just the same. Crab cakes are popular, as are grilled salmon and tuna, but the crowd also enjoys burgers and beers following an afternoon run along the nearby Capital Crescent Trail or rowing along the Potomac. “It’s comfortable here,” said Economids, a Bethesda, Md., native. “People don’t want to leave.”

Dining at a traditional crab shack usually requires a 30-minute drive on Route 50 toward Annapolis, where Washington professionals can shed their suits for shorts and flip flops and hammer away at their dinner. But just past the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington, Va., the Quarterdeck Restaurant (1200 Fort Myer Drive) caters to crab-lovers with buckets of seasonal crabs dusted in Old Bay, though its Rosslyn location means a view of office buildings instead of boats.

“If you want to see the water, bring a picture,” owner Lou Gatti joked. The Quarterdeck is open year-round, but when crab season hits in April, the usually low-key restaurant with its oldies jukebox requires reservations for outdoor seating. A dozen medium-sized steamed crabs are $44, and the prices reach up to $76 for jumbos. Pitchers of beer are less than $10, and frozen margaritas and daiquiris are $5.50. Gatti said his relaxed restaurant attracts everyone from Hill staffers to Pentagon employees to Arlington-based professionals.

“We’re not a five-star restaurant, nor do we try to be. If your salt shaker runs out, grab the one next to you,” Gatti said before extending a warm welcome to seafood-craving staffers: “It’s fun to see the young interns, the staffers, anyone from the Hill. They’re always welcome here.”