Dining Review: Bob Ashby’s Cantwell’s Tavern in Odessa, Delaware
The Rest is History: A refined country menu makes Cantwell’s in Odessa worth the visit.
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Given the surroundings, you can’t blame Ashby for flaunting a little fine-dinery, particularly because they usually succeeded at it. The old country inn seemed like a sensible setting to borrow some of Lowcountry South Carolina’s best culinary traditions, like etouffée and she-crab soup. The star of Sheridan’s etouffée is the homemade andouille, a blissful arrangement of smoky peppers and pork fat, brimming with paprika and spices. They made for a rich and satisfying etouffée, which drenched plump shrimp in a rich, aromatic lacquer, and arrived ladled over creamy polenta.
She-crab bisque, transformed from boilerplate fish-house familiar to transcendent nectar of Neptune, thanks to the inherent richness of crab roe and a dash of sherry, which draws out gentle notes of sweetness from bundles of crabmeat.
More great ingredients topped brick-oven-crisped flatbread, a cracker-thin vehicle that held fennel-specked salami, melted Vermont cheddar and matchstick Granny Smith apples. Flavor combinations this solid, anchored by the lovely pungency of salami, were appreciated, but the flatbread itself was frustratingly thin and unsubstantial. A larger dollop of palate-clearing apples would be another good adjustment. Or it could simply take notes from the nicely balanced basil tuna salad, a cool, relaxing burst of color on a plate that invigorated all the senses. Pink rectangles of tuna fanned over a stack of jicama, carrot, red bell peppers, and greens, all tossed in a piquant cilantro vinaigrette.
A testament to Ashby’s consistency, Cantwell’s executes the simple stuff with ease. Humongous baked oysters (at least five-inchers, on average, I’d guess) received a dusting of breadcrumbs to offset the perfectly briny and ductile oysters, which were again topped with scant celery greens. Cantwell’s raw bar lists bivalves from Chincoteague Island, Malpeque Bay and Blue Point, Conn., and are all available as shooters (which everyone should try at least once) floating in vodka, cool veggie broth and a wicked, horseradish-laced cocktail sauce. Your singed nose hairs will forgive you, eventually.
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