The Charles: A Natural Fit for La Plata

Field-to-Fork

This New Restaurant Is a Natural Fit for La Plata

Story by Angela Mattingly Breck

 

Local gourmands who mourned the closing of The Crossing at Casey Jones in La Plata last summer didn’t have to wait long for a replacement. The venerable restaurant and local watering hole that was situated next to the train tracks in the Charles County seat for nearly four decades closed in August. In its place, just a few months later, The Charles opened its doors. And judging by the crowds the farm-to-table eatery is attracting, it has filled the culinary void quite nicely.

The Charles is the latest addition to the EatWell DC family. David Winer’s locally owned company includes five other restaurants in the District – Grillfish, Logan Tavern, Commissary, The Pig and Frenchy’s Naturel. And when The Charles says it’s “field to fork,” well, those farm products don’t have too far to travel. The EatWell Natural Farm is just a few miles away on Glen Albin Road. Winer has owned the farm since 2010, and it has been supplying EatWell’s restaurants with whatever products are in season. The farm was “born from a desire to fill a gap in our supply chain,” reads EatWell’s website.

Jillian Stackhouse, The Charles’ promotions manager, says the restaurant’s menu changes to utilize what the farm can provide given the time of year. And “whatever we can’t find at our farm we still try to source locally,” Stackhouse says, such as bacon and sausage from nearby Hancock Farms. “We try to stay local.” None of our food is frozen, “well, except for the ice cream,” she adds, with a laugh. Imbibers will find local brews on the menu as well, such as beer from Calvert Brewing Company in Upper Marlboro and Mully’s Brewery in Prince Frederick. Also looks for beers made elsewhere in Maryland, and from Delaware, Pennsylvania and beyond.

Welcome to La Plata
The Charles officially opened Oct. 6, and the response from the community was and has been “really, really great,” Stackhouse says. People have been very welcoming. The outreach from the community was “overwhelming,” she says. “Everyone who comes in has been saying, ‘This is just what La Plata needed,’” Stackhouse says. “La Plata needs and deserves a nice place to go and eat that’s not overly priced and has really good food.” Stop by for a “great dining experience,” she says.

Stackhouse acknowledges that the community was sad to see the old restaurant leave. After all, it had been in town for 38 years. The Charles wanted to pay homage to the previous restaurant. Parts of a mural that took up the bar’s back wall were made into large photographs that now grace the walls in that same room. Stackhouse says the staff recognized how special Casey’s was to so many people, and they wanted to preserve something that would do justice to Casey’s memory.

“A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into the renovation,” she says. But everyone enjoyed the process of getting The Charles opened in just two months.Stackhouse, a 2012 graduate of La Plata High School, says she was a former Casey Jones server. She returned to Charles County after earning an event management degree from Johnson & Wales University in North Carolina. You’ll find other holdovers on staff, too.

Executive Chef Wil Crutchley, who had been a private chef in New York, has former employees with him in the kitchen. You’ll recognize head bartender Jimmy Ellis. Other members of the management team are Mark Barry, general manager; John Wimbrow, assistant general manager; and Heidi Minora, private dining coordinator.

The Greatest Hits
The restaurant serves what it calls “unique twists on American favorites along with local fare that highlights the culinary traditions of Southern Maryland.” But some of the offerings on The Charles’ menu have been taken from the other restaurants in the company. These are what Stackhouse calls “The Greatest Hits.” Other items on the menu have been created by Crutchley.

The popular appetizer Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts is from The Commissary and “they’re amazing,” Stackhouse says. It’s the No. 1-selling appetizer. “People can’t get enough of them.”
Other appetizers include lettuce wraps, also from The Commissary, and duck meatballs from The Bird. Diners can find fried mushrooms, buffalo shrimp, ginger calamari, mambo wings and hummus as other appetizer choices. The cream of crab and corn soup was created in La Plata. That item has found its way onto the menus of the other restaurants, as have Crutchley’s crab cakes.

The menu boasts a selection of beef, turkey and veggie burgers (Stackhouse says they are “huge and delicious”), sandwiches, salads, sides and entrees (the Crispy Chicken Paillard is popular). Diners will find a selection of poultry, seafood, beef and pork. There are pasta dishes, too.

The Charles also serves brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. Menu items such as biscuits and gravy, chicken and waffles, huevos rancheros and crab cake Benedict should entice one to give it a try. If that doesn’t work, how about a breakfast margarita or the Bloody Mary bar? The Charles features its Bloody Mary-Land, which has the usual ingredients but adds crab meat and bacon.

Whether it’s a weekend breakfast, a daily lunch or dinner, as Stackhouse says: “We have a little bit of everything. We can make anyone happy.”

The Charles, from its name to the food and beverage choices, is all about “being local.” The management wants people to feel at home when they come in. “We want this to be their weekly spot,” Stackhouse says, whether they are stopping by for happy hour, coming in to enjoy a cocktail and dinner, or bringing the whole family in for a meal. •

Location
417 Charles St. in La Plata.
Lunch hours are 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday. Dinner is served 5-10 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday, 5-10 p.m. Thursday with the bar open until 11 p.m., and 5-11 p.m.
Friday-Saturday with the bar open until midnight. Brunch is served 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Happy hour, in the bar only,
is 3-6 p.m. daily.

Reservations for dining recommended. 301-392-5116; TheCharlesLP.com

Crab Hushpuppies Recipe:

INGREDIENTS:
2 C. olive oil
5 C. all-purpose flour
4 C. cornmeal
5 eggs
¼ C. hot sauce
4 C. buttermilk
1 T. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
4 ears of cut corn
2 C. parmesan cheese
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
2 lbs. crab meat

PREPARATION:
In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients. In a medium bowl, mix the wet ingredients. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Mix until everything is evenly incorporated. Break up the crabmeat and fold into the batter. Refrigerate.

Roll into balls. Deep fry until golden brown. Make sure the inside is done. This recipe yields a gallon of the dough.