Carrol’s Creek has been an upscale favorite of in-the-know Annapolitans for decades. But I still consider it a hidden gem. From the water, it’s one of the first things you see heading to Eastport. On land however, it’s tucked away in the back corner of the Annapolis City Marina. Aside from the discreet sign below, you’d never know it was there.
So at the risk of angering the aforementioned locals by making their little secret busier, here’s why Carrol’s has been a favorite for so long.
All photos by Steve Adams
I get it. The location doesn’t scream high-end restaurant. Annapolis City Marina feels very... corporate. Because it is. Most tenants are leasing office space. But walk into Carrol’s and walk into a different world.
To the left, there’s a spacious bar and lounge with ample seating and a bounty of bottles. Plus a fireplace. You gotta love a bar with a fireplace.
On the right is the dining room. It’s got two levels which adds dimension even if the second is only one step up. There are booths and tables (each with fresh flowers) and nautical paintings and decor. But none of that is the star of the show.
That’d be the view. Carrol’s enjoys a commanding view of downtown Annapolis, the harbor, Naval Academy, and Spa Creek. History nerds (like yours truly) will know Spa Creek used to be Carrol’s Creek—so named to honor Declaration of Independence signer Charles Carroll. Don’t ask where the second L went. This is where the restaurant got its name and yes you do have my permission to impress friends, family, and dates with this tidbit.
My advice: Always sit outside if the weather's right.
I expect high-quality service when eating high-quality food in a high-quality setting. Which is exactly what I got.
All servers were informed and accommodating. Even though I asked a lot of questions. For the record, the cocktail sauce is homemade and you can get bread with dinner but only if you ask. They even let me choose a prime table (back corner by the window) even though I was late for my reservation.
Here’s the two-page dinner menu. Notably, it’s certified 100% nut-free. I’ve got 2 pro tips for ordering. Keep reading to learn my tricks.
I don’t drink much wine. But the list is extensive. I’m guessing any wine lover will find a winner. As for beer, I love how Carrol’s breaks out rotating taps, IPAs/pale ales, lagers/pilsners/ales, wheats/belgians, and darks/bocks. Each beer gets a lengthy description and even a suggested appetizer.
That said, though I’m open to advice and have nothing against the Northwest, I didn’t order the Batsquatch hazy IPA recommended for my shrimp cocktail. Batsquatch comes from Rogue in Oregon and in the interest of keeping it Maryland-made, I chose a Nanticoke Nectar—a citrusy american IPA produced by our soon-to-be West Annapolis neighbors, RAR Brewing from Cambridge.
Bottom line? I’m really impressed by the Carrol’s beverage menu.
Carrol’s features an impressive list of small plates, most of which are seafood. I’ve tried many of them and still hope they’ll bring back my favorite someday, crab ceviche. Until then, I can’t stay away from the shrimp cocktail.
Why, you might wonder, when shrimp cocktails conjure images of Mad Men-era menus and everyone serves them?
Because Carrol’s shrimp are big and fresh. And the homemade cocktail sauce is laced with just the right amount of horseradish to clear my sinuses without crying. If you’re like me, you will put that single lettuce leaf to good use. Use it to sop up whatever sauce is leftover after the six shrimp are gone. Go on. Nobody will judge.
Because I love my mom and wanted to give you an opinion on one of Maryland’s most popular appetizers, I got a cream of crab soup to go. Her verbatim verdict, given via text after I dropped it off: Creamy, thick soup with nice chunks of crab. Rich.
Because I, like Elaine Benes, LOVE A BIG SALAD, I ordered two entreé salads: the Seafood Greek and Southwest Shrimp.
The former was excellent. It had a healthy portion of fresh shrimp, crab, and deliciously crispy vegetables. They forgot my cucumbers though :(
The latter was also excellent. More plump shrimp (did I mention I like shrimp?) with fresh grilled corn and red peppers hit the spot. I would have happily traded in some of the crispy tortilla strips for an extra shrimp though. And next time I think I’ll ask if they can add black beans. That’d be perfect.
I also ordered Cioppino—an Italian American seafood stew that's pretty hard to find, even in a waterfront town like Annapolis. It’s even harder to get right given how many different types of seafood must be cooked at once. Carrol’s gets it right.
The menu says it includes a fresh fish filet, clams, mussels, scallops, and shrimp in a tomato basil broth. It comes in a really deep bowl and this thing is all killer (AKA seafood) and no filler (rice, pasta, etc). Mine had 7 mid-sized shrimp, 6 mussels, 5 clams, 0 scallops (sadly), a breadstick I ignored, and a big piece of what I think was Mahi Mahi.
As wonderful as it was, I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t mention the table next to me got a Cioppino with a couple unopened clams and undercooked mussels. The chef apologized, thanked them for letting the kitchen know, and gave them a free dessert. I also do have to reiterate that I got 0 scallops.
And on to dessert
I was bummed about my phantom scallops, so I scanned the dessert menu for a pick-me-up (and definitely not because I'm paid to review dessert too). It came in the form of Coffee & Donuts Bread Pudding.
This consisted of a bready-donutty puff topped with coffee-chocolate chip ice cream and a bottle of Maker’s Mark sea salt caramel sauce on the side. Presentation was incredible and it was gosh-darn delicious. Just enough sauce in each bite for none to be left over at the end. Which is good because I would have embarrassed myself by drinking it straight up.
Because I love my dad and wanted to show you another dessert (but mostly because I didn’t want him to be jealous of my mom), I also ordered a Flourless Chocolate Cake to go. It traveled surprisingly well; the ice cream didn’t even melt! Dad’s report was just as succinct as Mom’s: Rich and delicious cake and ice cream. I even ate the fruity sauce.
I’m supposed to share one pro tip but I have three and don’t want you to miss out, so here they are:
Carrol’s Happy Hour is a great deal. Half off everything on their very long list of small plates from 5pm to close, Sunday – Friday.
Carrol's Creek Chef's Dinner, at the top right of the menu, is an equally-great deal. You get to accompany your entrée with Maryland cream of crab soup, Carrol's Creek salad, and a dessert for $18. That would regularly cost you $28.50.
Plan to dine on the patio at least once during Annapolis Yacht Club’s Wednesday Night Races. If you time it right, you’ll see dozens of sailboats returning to Spa (or Carrol’s!) Creek under sail. Here's the schedule.
Carrol’s Creek is pricey. But it’s on par with Annapolis’s other upscale restaurants. And you definitely get what you pay for. I also love that it’s been family-run since 1983.
I can’t overlook the two strikes against the Cioppino (one eavesdropped, one my own) during this particular visit, but I’ve ordered it over a dozen times before and it’s always excellent—and a great value at $27.
On that note, my bill for one beer, two apps, two salads, one entree, and two desserts was $115. Keep in mind that's an absurd amount of food for one person...
I made it an even $150 because the service was great and the last two years sucked for servers. Mind you, I did the math. If I used my own pro tip #1, I’d have only paid $97.
If I had to write the Carrol’s Twitter bio, it’d say, “Great food, especially seafood, with great views at a great price.”
How many scoops?
As my trusted epicurean editor (for all you newbies, that’s Ryan Sneddon) has informed me, Naptown Scoop rates restaurants on the same scale as Michelin stars:
Single scoop: a very good restaurant
Double scoop: excellent cooking worth a detour
Triple scoop: exceptional cuisine that is worth a special journey
He’s also told me that, just as with Michelin stars, not every restaurant will earn scoops but this doesn’t mean they aren't good.
My verdict, then?
Carrol’s has its flaws (e.g. the Cioppino incident). But I’ve been coming for years and think it really is a can’t miss stop for locals and non-locals alike. So I’m giving Carrol’s Creek our first 2.5 scoops.
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