Small-town charm meets big-city dining in Easton, Maryland.
What is an advantage of living in a bigger city? A wide range of top quality restaurants to choose from without having to travel far. It’s not often to find smaller towns with a bustling food scene, but that’s not the case in Easton, Maryland, which is experiencing a culinary revival that’s making the town a popular weekend getaway — or new home — for up-and-coming city dwellers makes out of New York, DC and Philadelphia.
About 70 miles east of Washington, DC, on Maryland’s east coast, you’ll find Easton, Maryland: a small coastal town that’s on the rise thanks to the efforts of Bluepoint Hospitality, which owns and operates numerous restaurants and shops across the city . Easton anchored Maryland’s east coast in the 1800s. It grew rapidly and became the largest and most important city on the east coast. But with growth in neighboring areas and increased tourism to those locations, particularly on the coast such as Oxford and St Michaels, Easton began to wane. Historic buildings stood empty until the 1980s, when the conversion was accelerated.
Easton’s renaissance is being spearheaded by the efforts of local entrepreneur Paul Prager, founder and CEO of Beowulf Energy and Bluepoint Hospitality, who first visited the area while he was at the Naval Academy in nearby Annapolis. “This area became my respite from military school and where I escaped to whenever I could,” says Prager. Later, while raising a family in New York City, Prager and his wife bought a farm in Talbot County near Easton, where they spent weekends, vacations, and summers. During the pandemic, Prager and his wife, now empty nesters, moved here permanently.
Downtown Easton has been thriving for the past few days. Vendors filled every storefront and the streets were bustling with life. People preferred to live here rather than in the surrounding big cities. There was a rich art scene and the economy was booming. It was the kind of city Prager wanted to see alive again. “Easton has great architecture and a rich history as a modern community,” he says. “My vision was (and remains) to restore its original vibrancy by creating opportunities for young people with great schools, more city dormitories and a rich arts scene.” Prager began revitalization efforts in 2014 and now owns about 40% of the commercial space in the city.
But how did Bluepoint successfully revitalize a small town and attract top talent from the larger cities? Sourcing local talent and adding post-pandemic mass exodus from cities. Prager notes that with countless restaurants shutting down during the pandemic, Easton has created a new opportunity for hospitality professionals to create something new and get out of the big city. “Our rapid growth and success has attracted professionals from many cities,” he says. “This provides a unique learning opportunity for both our transplants and the brilliant local team who have accompanied us since our inception. Education is at the heart of everything we do, so learning from each other has never been a problem.”
Plan your visit
A must in Easton is Bluepoint’s Bas Rouge, which, under the watchful eye of Executive Chefs Harley Peet and Executive Chef Phil Lind, puts the spotlight on classic European gourmet cuisine and old-school French hospitality. It’s the kind of place you’d expect to find in New York, Boston, or DC, but never in a small town like Easton. Eye-catchers include Osetra caviar and crab spaetzle, and Guéridon service from an antique silver carriage for a touch of tableside entertainment. During my visit, I was intrigued to spot a particular Dover sole on the menu and my waiter informed me that it was caught just two days earlier in Brittany, France and only sold to four restaurants in the US, including French Laundry in Youngville. California and Le Bernardin in New York. Paired with a Sauvignon Blanc from the French Loire Valley, I asked myself again whether I was really in Maryland or a booming metropolis.
Down the road from Bas Rouge is the intimate and Scottish inspired lounge and bar The Stewart, specializing in single malt Scotch and vintage champagne. Dark wood furniture combined with gold-framed oil paintings of Highland scenes and renovated 18th-century period furniture create a cozy atmosphere perfect for after-dinner cocktails or a special evening. An 18th-century walnut and brass trumeau fireplace sits at the center of the room, flanked by custom rawhide banquettes and custom George Smith chairs in tweed and plaid to create a cozy atmosphere for an intimate evening or after-dinner drink to make dinner. A seat near the fire is a win during the cold winter months, as is a selection from the $700,000 Scotch program. Various areas of Scotland are represented on the programme, including a 1954 Glen Grant and a 1950 Gordon & MacPhail Speymalt Macallan. Vintage champagnes are also plentiful, including a 2000 Dom Perignon and a 1995 Krug d’Ambonnay. I enjoyed mine Champagne in a vintage 1917 glass because Prager believes fine china should be enjoyed, not kept in a cupboard, and paired it with the braised short-rib grilled cheese, truffled potatoes, and seasonal, purple Brussels sprouts that caught the under-the-radar Talent was prepared by chef David Kneller.
Prager’s dining establishments continue to spread throughout downtown, including The Wardroom, a foodie market, wine shop, and restaurant offering a handful of homemade pasta dishes, charcuterie, and gourmet sandwiches. It even has its own cheesemonger, Red, who works with local farmers and world-class cheesemakers to create a cheese program that rivals the best in the country. The fair even has its own cheese cave, plus 24 wines by the glass and over 1,400 bottles. Within walking distance is the first of Bluepoint’s establishments, Sunflowers & Greens, a salad bar specializing in the finest local and national artisanal produce and meats. Here I have chosen my own salad from a range of ingredients, but you can also choose from the list of signature salads and daily specials. There’s also tiny Roma Alla Pala, which specializes in take-out Roman pizza; boulangerie-style coffee and bakery weather gauges; Bumblebee Juice with healthy, cold-pressed juices; and Bonheur Pie and Ice Cream, which is styled after a Chanel jewelry store. The ice cream selection changes and includes gingerbread, oat milk with lemon curd, maple walnut and black raspberry.
Beyond the culinary scene, Prager is slowly developing other storefronts in the city for retail space. Benjamin is a graceful boutique that gives way to Prager’s love of fine china and is considered one of the best collections of china, crystal and silver in the US shop Nymphenburg goods from Bavaria, plus Viennese and German glass, silver and crystal. Nearby Flying Cloud Booksellers specializes in best-selling fiction and non-fiction, biographies, literary classics, children’s literature and more. Next door, sister spot Flying Cloud Fine Art Posters recently opened, featuring 800 original vintage posters of Golden Age masterpieces.
Prager and Bluepoint plan to continue revamping Easton and creating a vacation-worthy destination with more dining and entertainment in the works. The recently restored Ebenezer Theater hosts concerts by Grammy-winning artists. This winter comes the sweetest of shops, P. Bordier, a creperie and patisserie in one.
Easton is approximately an hour and a half from Washington, DC and an hour and 15 minutes from Baltimore. Downtown is easily walkable, but renting a car is a must if you want to explore the surrounding areas like the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge or the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park and Visitor Center.
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