Promising Seafood and Country Cooking
Photos by Josh Triggs
Eastern Panhandle residents love their seafood. The Eastern Shore of the DelMarVa Peninsula is close enough for many Panhandle residents to make the trek for sun, fun, and eats for a weekend trip. However, it’s not practical to make the trek as much as one might like to eat seafood. Hence, the establishment of seafood eateries in and around the Panhandle. The newest of that genre is Laine’s Restaurant in Martinsburg.
Located between the Gateway Hotel building and the Martinsburg Police Department, Laine’s is the only downtown business with a large front patio. It’s great to see a thriving, family friendly restaurant on this end of town, and Laine’s not only adds to downtown, it adds to the locally-owned, freshly prepared food scene.
Our lunch party arrived one day at 11 a.m. just as the restaurant opened for the day. After Laine’s opening in January, word spread quickly that the food is good. Lines and waits for dinner were said to be long so we wanted to get in at a good time. Things have settled down and the kitchen has found its groove, but what a great problem to have right out of the gate.
The decor is simple, clean, and inviting with fresh flowers on the tables during our visit, colorful potted flowers on the patio, and an interior which seats 65. With outdoor seating for 27, the patio has an attractive decorative fence and festive lights. A striking note about the decor is on the wall— huge, framed, photographic wallpaper murals depicting the Martinsburg Roundhouse, the Thomas Point Lighthouse, and the Bay Bridge. Another interesting framed piece is the vintage Rey’s Salt Water Fishing Guide. I wonder if these fishing holes are still accurate?
Laine’s owners Kevin and Elaine Pence grew up in Annapolis where they met as teenagers. Elaine, the namesake of Laine’s, has worked in the restaurant business for her entire career. Kevin worked in accounting as a controller for mid and large companies in both the construction and food industries. When I noted the attractive nautical themed menus, they quickly point out that their daughter, Sara, is a graphic designer responsible for the artwork and design.
Later in their lives, they owned Cocktails & Dreams at Fells Point near Inner Harbor in Baltimore. Located in a small row house, the business was always packed, but Kevin says it was too small to make a decent profit. They went on to buy the Hollinswood Inn, a Baltimore staple since 1962.
The Pences learned about Berkeley County when they saw an advertisement for The Woods Resort. Later, they visited friends who own a place along the Potomac River, and about two years ago, they bought their own river lot. “We like this area; the people are nicer,” says Kevin. After selling the Hollinswood Inn last fall, the Pences purchased the building on Queen Street in November and set out cleaning, touching up, and furnishing the restaurant.
Promising seafood and country cooking, the menu is extensive. My guests made their choices: one for a half pound of spiced and steamed Gulf shrimp, another chose a bowl of cream of crab soup, and I selected a crab cake. Other items that caught my eye include the oyster sandwich, steamed snow crab legs, and steamed garlic mussels.
Under the guise of “tasting for writing,” I appropriate a bit of shrimp and some soup in a side dish. The shrimp were tender and juicy and perfectly seasoned for my friend’s taste. I might be tempted to ask for a little heavier hand on the bay seasoning if I order the steamed shrimp, but they are really delicious and appropriately seasoned for most. The tasty zesty cocktail sauce is homemade not bottled. For a real seafood restaurant, it should be homemade, after all.
From Florida to Maine and everywhere in between, each locality has a special way of preparing seafood, particularly crab cakes and soups with seafood. Admit it, you’ve tasted them all, too, and most of the soups are so heavy and really awful.
You keep ordering the cream of crab because you’re always hopeful that someone will get it right. And the crab cakes stuffed with filler and too much mayonnaise and dijon! When they’re fried, it adds a whole other layer of greasy yuck that literally leaves me feeling yucky. You’ve got to stop wasting calories and money on these chances. Order only where you know these items are good and to your liking.
I’ve had “fancy” lump crab soup with sherry poured table side at several restaurants. Yes, it’s lovely to have lump crab, but there is not crab in every bite. With Laine’s, the creamy soup is an indulgence of calories, but it is not so heavy as to leave you feeling like you shouldn’t have eaten it, and there is fantastic crab in every bite. If there is a better cream of crab soup, a) I need to try it to believe it, and b) we may have differing tastes in what constitutes a great cream of crab soup.
Crab cakes heavily laden with condiments and breading to bind them together along with chopped peppers and goodness knows what else are really crab burgers. Even if they’re broiled, this type of crab cake is often unpleasantly heavy. Laine’s crab cakes straddle that line of light and airy yet so full of pure crab with no filler that it is satisfyingly delicious. Gorgeously broiled, alone or with turf, Laine’s crab cakes are my new favorite.
Kevin says,”We listen to our customer feedback.” They’re currently testing what items from their Baltimore tavern should be on the menu permanently at Laine’s versus what should be a special or even be deleted from the menu altogether. For example, Kevin reports that oysters, cheesesteaks, and kosher hotdogs are really popular and that the Monte Cristo sandwich will probably be axed. He said the beer battered cod started as a special but the thick cut filet is so popular, it is now a regular menu item.
Currently, Laine’s is delivering to downtown businesses but also offers carry out, and with notice, can put together catering platters. Kevin is at the front of the house with two servers, and Elaine is running the kitchen with another cook. The team at Laine’s is dedicated to providing great food and service to guests. “It’s true Chesapeake Bay seafood and some traditional American dishes as well,” says Kevin. “Our careers have been dedicated to serving great food whether it has been me on the business end or Elaine taking care of people. We want our customers to say , ‘Wow, this is a real treat’ when they come here. We are glad to see you here at Laine’s, and we give you a good price for your meal. We hope you love it.”