Set Sail for the Bugeye Grill in Solomons
Jimmy Zirakian brings a new casual, upscale restaurant to the island
Writer: Angela Mattingly Breck
The sign outside the Bugeye Grill in Solomons Island reads “Fine Fare & Spirits.” And that’s what diners can expect when they step inside.
Jimmy “Jimmy Z” Zirakian’s newest venture in the waterfront village in southern Calvert County is offering some stability to the property that has seen its share of tenants over the past several years. Zirakian is bringing his restaurant expertise from Charles Street Brasserie, located on the back side of the island, around to a prime spot out in front.
Zirakian says he had always wanted to open a restaurant in the building, which is situated on the island’s main drag facing the Patuxent River. He was delighted when a for-lease sign appeared there.
He’s no stranger to the restaurant industry.
After working in the coffee service industry, Zirakian spent six years running Harbor Sounds in Solomons in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He left that venture for about a decade. In 2014, he wanted to get back in the business, so he opened Charles Street Brasserie in the same location. Might have been the same spot, but he vowed to create something different. He put together Charles Street, bringing together different aspects of the dining experiences that he had had all across the country.
“Charles Street became a little bit of all of that,” he says, with its tapas menu, specialty cocktails and piano bar.
Now, he is creating this new space, and he promises to bring something different to the island once again.The Bugeye Grill has been open since October, when the busy tourist season was winding down.
Despite that, Zirakian says, his new casual, upscale restaurant has been busy and the response has been great. Opening during the off-season, “we’ve had a good chance to be able to work the kinks out, get the mojo flowing.”
Bugeye will be ready when the warmer weather gets here and the traffic on the island picks up.
Joining Zirakian at the Bugeye are some familiar faces from Charles Street Brasserie. Joseph Allen is managing the front of the house, and Brendan Cahill is managing the kitchen. All three of them are doing double duty at both restaurants.
Zirakian gives credit to his managers. Diners might remember Cahill from Old Field Inn in Prince Frederick or going back even further to the Front Porch in Leonardtown, or Allen from Old Field before moving to Charles Street.
At the Bugeye, “we tried very hard not to parallel, so it would not be a mirror of Charles Street. … It’s a completely different menu,” Zirakian says.
It’s a little bit of class, a little contemporary, a little bar. It’s a totally different atmosphere, he says.
A diverse menu
Zirakian says he set out to create a diverse menu, one its website boasts is “a fresh, contemporary twist on old favorites.” That’s important in an area that will draw diners looking for a nice evening out as easily as it might draw someone just getting off a boat in their Hawaiian shirt and shorts.
There are many fine dining options at Bugeye Grill, as well as sandwiches, soups and salads … and several tasty appetizers.On a recent visit, Southern Maryland-This is Living staffers opted for some of the more popular appetizers: prosciutto-wrapped figs with goat cheese and finished with honey and pecans (“They are phenomenal,” says front manager Allen); pesto-shrimp sauté with crostini; and tournedos huitre, yummy beef tenderloin medallions with fried oysters and bearnaise sauce. Others on the menu were smoked salmon and marinated flank steak.
Are you hungry yet?There is plenty of shellfish on the menu: mussels with a choice of three different sauces, raw oysters, steamed clams, shrimp, clams casino and oysters Rockefeller.
Diners will find a variety of entrees: filet au bleu, pork loin chops, New York strip, maple-walnut salmon (“It’s outstanding,” and there is a beautiful presentation on it, says Zirakian), rockfish with panko crust, and seared tuna carpaccio.
Zirakian points out that the sandwiches are made with high-quality lunchmeats and very overstuffed.
“They’re very New York deli-style,” he says.
The seafood is fresh and the restaurant purchases locally whatever is available. Zirakian uses the discussion about the seafood he serves to talk a bit about the island’s oyster traditions and the oysters he buys.
“The farm-raised are much juicier, thicker,” Zirakian says, and “very plump.”
With that recommendation, we just had to order the oysters Rockefeller, too.
And since the sign outside mentions fine spirits, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the menu of fresh, sophisticated specialty drinks on the menu, many mixed with shrubs made in-house. They include the Lavender Fields, the Tini Bellini and the Life’s Lemon. There’s also the Deja Brew, No Say Rose´ and the Paloma Perfecta, along with infusions: seasonal sangria, grilled pineapple mojito, red sangria and rosemary bourbon tea.
Zirakian says it was a blessing to get the space, and he’s very happy about the prospects of his first summer at this location.
“I think there’s a lot here,” he says, eager to talk about what’s on the horizon.
The restaurant’s first floor has a bar area, a closed-in fine dining porch facing the river and outside seating in the front. Currently the upstairs is being used for private parties.
There are plans for the second-floor space and changes will be coming in the summer. Zirakian wants to offer fine dining up there in the early evenings on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. As the evening progresses, it will become the upscale Bugeye Lounge. He expects there will be some music, but nothing “outrageous or overwhelming.” He says it will be a great place to enjoy a cocktail after dinner.
After we checked out the space upstairs with its huge windows facing the Governor Thomas Johnson Bridge over the Patuxent, we have no doubt that patrons will have a great place to enjoy the sunset with that cocktail!
There will be a more casual tiki bar out back with a small stage for acoustic music and dock access for those who arrive by boat. Bugeye is shooting for a late April, early May opening for the tiki bar … when the weather gets right, Zirakian says.
Diners also can expect a brunch menu and later hours on the weekend. Those details were still being worked out at press time.
And in case you are wondering … the restaurant takes the name “bugeye” from a small boat with a flat bottom – resembling a skipjack – used for oyster dredging in the Chesapeake Bay in the early to mid-1800s.
Zirakian says he wanted a name that tied in with the island’s history. •
Some popular dishes include, from left to right, oysters Rockefeller, seared tuna carpaccio, maple-walnut salmon and an overstuffed club sandwich.
Filet Au Bleu from Brendan Cahill, executive chef of Bugeye Grill & Charles Street Brasserie
3 C. fresh breadcrumbs
¾ C. blue cheese crumbles
½ C. melted butter
4 T. chopped fresh herbs (tarragon, parsley, chives)
4 7-oz. beef tenderloin filets (salt and pepper to taste)
2 T. canola oil
2 T. chopped shallots
1 T. chopped garlic
1 C. red wine
2 C. beef demi-glace
Garlic mashed potatoes
In a large mixing bowl combine first four ingredients and set aside. Season filets with salt and pepper, pan sear filets in canola oil over medium high heat on one side for 2 minutes, turn filets over and sear for another 2 minutes. Remove filets to another pan and place blue cheese crumb mixture on top of each filet, set aside. Add shallots, garlic to original pan and sauté briefly, deglaze with red wine, reduce by half, add demi-glace and heat through, reserve. Place steaks in pre-heated 375° oven and bake to desired doneness and until crumb mixture is lightly brown.
To serve, place garlic mashed potatoes in center of plate, top with a filet and drizzle red wine sauce around the potatoes. Enjoy!