Richard Gorelick's recent "where are they now" piece about old timey Baltimore restaurants sent me down a memory lane of my own. I've been to a handful of restaurants on the list, but the only one I went to as a child was Haussner's. Mmmmm....strawberry pie.
For the most part, when I was a kid, we ate in Annapolis. I grew up in a family of restaurant loyalists. In the seventies, my parents and grandparents frequented Auberge de France. They had a special relationship with one waiter - Robert - who used to comment on Elizabeth Large's erstwhile blog (I wrote about it here).
Auberge was closed by the time I would've been invited to dinner there, but we had another - more kid-friendly - option for dinner: Busch's Chesapeake Inn.
Busch's was a big building, full of fish tanks and many rooms, on the eastbound side of route 50 just outside Annapolis. The lobby felt more like a hotel than a restaurant, with a big stone fireplace, loungey seating and a long counter instead of a hostess stand.
My grandparents ate there at least once a week - they had an account, back when you could do that. They talked about their regular waitress, Marie, like she was a part of the family. The restaurant was the site of more than one story that's made it into our family lore - like "that time Betty drank so much she went face-down in the mashed potatoes" (Betty was a great-aunt I never met; my dad and grandad had to carry her out and neither one was pleased about it. My dad still hasn't gotten over it - it's probably been forty years).
For kids, Busch's offered a special treat: draw a picture of an animal (any animal) on your menu and at the end of the meal, you'd get to reach into the treasure chest behind the lobby counter, and pull out a small drawstring bag packed full of candy - one Mary Jane (my all-time favorite), one Bit o'Honey, one caramel cream, one Goldberg's peanut chew (my mom's favorite) one butterscotch, one hard cinnamon candy and one piece of Bazooka Joe bubblegum. I might be missing a few brands, but you get the idea.
Busch's was known for its seafood, but as a kid, my standing order was the child's prime rib. Who else has prime rib on the kids' menu? I barely remember the crab cakes, but I have a lasting taste memory of the apple butter and port wine cheese, both of which were served with Club crackers as an appetizer.
By the time the restaurant closed, in 1999, I hadn't been there for a year or two. But wow would I love to go back there just for one day. One more kids' prime rib. One more cracker with apple butter. And - of course - one more Mary Jane.