Market, fossils, spirits, oysters

Pennsylvania Dutch Farmer’s Market in Annapolis. One roof covers all the vendors.

Our second day based in Annapolis, Will and I hit the weekend Amish market in the morning. Once inside we had fun with the shelves and shelves full of what looked like hand-packaged, natural items. Possibly it was no fresher than going to the grocery store, but it was a great atmosphere. The place was jammed with people, so I know the turnover of goods was high at any rate.

Shelves filled with spices and kitchen goods. I bought a few items for Tara, the family baker. They will be stocking stuffers. The place was so crammed with people that I had to try this shot several times. People kept walking into view from around the corner.

Employees all appeared to be members of the Amish community, and the market website says “all the Amish merchants are from Lancaster PA, the heart of PA Dutch Country.” That means the vendors travel from two hours away. I’m not familiar with Pennsylvania Amish, only Idaho Mennonites, but I felt sometimes an outfit on someone at the market was a bit exaggerated, mostly on the men, possibly to play the part. I’m sure the visitors just love it. But I am probably completely out of line for suggesting it. The women’s garb looked much like my mother did when she was Mennonite.

After loading my arms with treats, I realized I was starving. I paid for my treasures and told Will we needed to eat breakfast or I was going to buy up the whole place. Inside the market is a darling little diner-style cafe serving home-style meals. Our Amish server was very kind and chatty and took good care of us and my belly was full in no time. We wandered around before leaving. The produce section was small, but I can’t blame them: it was November. The rest of the place was doing a roaring business: pastries, breads, dairy, and meats. Right in the center was the most hopping place of all as workers cranked out hot baked foods.

There was a line stretching the length of the market, made up of people waiting to buy a hot roll. The most popular item was a bread roll filled with cheese and egg and either bacon, sausage, or other meats I can’t recall. We watched through glass, workers assembling and baking these rolls so fast it blew my mind. I went to the cashier and asked whether photography was allowed. He said “Go ahead,” then paused just slightly. “They don’t like it, but everyone takes photos, so it’s ok. Thank you for asking!” That wasn’t really the yes or no I was hoping for. But I took his permission and went back to the glass and took a photo.

Their hands moved like lightning, filling trays with meat & cheese rolls that were popped into the ovens right behind them. Customers were buying them piping hot as they came out of the ovens. This food went from raw to in the customers hands in minutes.

Will had been telling me about this place called Dinosaur Park that he thought we would like. I was dubious, not sure what it was. A theme park? A Museum? He said you could collect your own fossils. I don’t associate Maryland with dinosaurs. But I let him take me there and I’m really glad we went.

Dinosaur Park in Laurel, Maryland is small and modest, and tucked unexpectedly into a business park. Since it was the weekend, there were lots of parking spaces available, in between a heating equipment supplier and a commercial printing company. We walked up to the gate and were greeted immediately by an enthusiastic Park Ranger. Behind her we saw that the Dinosaur Park is a popular place, with families scattered all around, and lots of Park Rangers available to help. We were ushered over to a table where we took advantage of the free interpretive program offered the weekend we visited. The young and enthusiastic Ranger explained that this park is a unique site which preserves a rare deposit of fossils from the early Cretaceous period, about 115 million years ago. More fossils have been found at this site than any other site east of the Mississippi River that cuts through the center of the US.

Dinosaur Park is behind a fence in a little natural area on the edge of a business park.
A Ranger at the Dinosaur Park explains who used to live where we were standing.

We got a few ground rules: absolutely no digging, and we can’t take away anything large without permission. This place is so laden with fossils that they are merely scattered across the top of the ground, and visitors are allowed to pick them up. The Park makes a pledge that if you find a fossil of note, they will attach your name to it and if it’s ever displayed in a museum, you will be credited with the find. Will had a very good eye and found a load of petrified wood. He gave some little pieces for me to keep. More Christmas gifts for Tara, the family geologist. He took the rest of his finds back to the front gate. At one point a Ranger came to us and showed us examples of fossils that other people had found. I was delighted with the little knobby fossilized pinecone and was determined to find one. I thought I found one, although a poor example, but then Will’s alarm went off. It was time to head to our next stop.

A ranger and some visitors looking for fossils at Dinosaur Park. See how cleverly I cropped out the business park?
The strategy for finding fossils here is to get close to the ground, and spend a little time, looking at things until something catches your eye.
Petrified wood that Will found for me.

Our next stop was Blackwater Distilling. Remember that I mentioned the day before that I noticed the sign for a distillery? It was across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge on Kent Island. I looked the place up and discovered that they do tours, and talked Will into going with me. He doesn’t drink, but I said it would be interesting and he wouldn’t be forced to drink anything. We left Dinosaur Park in time to catch the 3:00 pm Saturday one-hour tour for $6 each. The distillery was in another business park!!

We crossed the 4.3-mile-long bridge once more, on our way to Kent Island, Maryland.
It was a little hard to find, when the front entrance of Blackwater Distilling looked just like all the other front entrances in the business park.

We joined a group of four other people and saw the inside of the place. It’s small, and seemingly disorganized, and appears to be in a state of transition. We had this confirmed by our guide, Rocky, who explained that the distillery was expanding the site where its tavern is, and everything we saw in the business park would soon be moving to the dedicated site. Rocky also told us that Blackwater doesn’t actually distill, but sources distilled spirits and finishes and bottles them. They experiment with aging, barrels, flavours, and produce their own unique spirits. We were told about Maryland’s history of whiskey production, and how it continued on the black market through prohibition, with the aid of boats navigating the mazes of rivers and inlets that lead into Chesapeake Bay.

Rocky told dad jokes and explained how things work at Blackwater Distilling.
I was impressed by the equipment inside, especially this copper tank.
I had been hoping for whiskey, but Blackwater does more rum and vodka.
Will spotted a dragon-chicken monster for me on a T-shirt hanging on the wall. Then I saw the monster again on these labels. You can bet I purchased that T-shirt later at the tavern. Dragon AND chicken?!
The tour wrapped up at the Tavern nearby, for tasting. Remember how I said Will doesn’t drink? Yep, that meant all of this was for me. I picked my fave (the White Rum) and bought a bottle.
Will drove us back across the bridge to Annapolis.

We hoped to find another lighthouse before the sky was completely black. We made our way out a beautiful narrow strip of land with gorgeous homes along the road. Even though it was dark, we could see water on both sides of us, behind the houses. Then we were stopped by a gate. Misinformation on the map said it would be open till 5pm, but in truth the gates are closed a half hour before dusk. We had missed it. It was still a lovely place and we parked on the road and walked to a bit of beach to look around.

As close as we could get to Thomas Point Park.
Chef works his magic on customer orders, while a top-knotted waitress picks up drinks, at Sailor Oyster Bar.

Rather hungry at this point, we found two places online lauded as an exceptional place to eat. At the door of the first one they said there would be an hour and twenty minute wait!!! We quickly said, “Thanks but no thanks” and stepped out. We headed for the second one, where we were told there would be another long wait. Unsure of where to go next, we walked along the sidewalk and gave it some thought. Next door was a place that looked fine, and hungry enough to give up our dining standards, we stepped in and were seated immediately at the Sailor Oyster Bar in Annapolis. This was one of those times when I accidentally stumbled into the better choice in the first place. This place is outstanding. The short menu was deliberate and exceptional. We ate some of the best food of the trip, and furthermore, the atmosphere was welcoming, engaged, friendly. The staff was busy busy the whole time, but had fun with each other, constantly joking around and praising each other and most especially praising the chef.  Next time, I’ll just skip the other place and go directly to the SOB. (And yes, I had local oysters on the half shell – of course!)

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