Sunday evening (May 28) before Memorial Day found us arriving at Vin 909 Winecafe in Annapolis at 5:05 PM. The name is taken in part from their street address: 909 Bay Ridge Avenue (click here to see their listing in our Food & Drink Business Directory). Why is the time important? Well… they don’t take reservations, and open at 5:00 on Sundays. We wanted to ensure we didn’t have to wait in a line.
The six-year-old restaurant (according to the bartender) is housed in a restored Sears Catalog Home in the Eastport neighborhood. The house was previously home to Wild Orchid Café, which my wife Cindy and I visited several times. After success at this location, the Wild Orchid Café moved to another spot in Annapolis: the Severn Bank building at 200 Westgate Circle. Unfortunately, they closed within just a couple years.
Despite what we thought was a fairly well-timed arrival, the restaurant was already nearly full when we got to the door. With only one or two tables remaining, and a few seats at the bar, we grabbed chairs at the bar. Behind us was a sort of lobby area between the bar and entrance doorway. To the left of the entrance was a small vestibule with a couple of high-top tables, but no chairs. That appeared to be the space for customers to wait for tables to become available.
The barkeep was friendly, professional, and very busy — he quickly got us water and menus. We were sitting next to the spot where the wait-staff placed and picked-up customers’ drink orders. As it turned out, many not-yet-seated patrons also came there to order drinks. And the numbers of those folks only grew as time passed.
We looked forward to experiencing what they bill as “farm fresh and organic ingredients.” A listing and descriptions of what we had follows:
Stella NV Prosecco, from Veneto Italy, $42 for a bottle
An effervescent, sparkling and refreshing drink on a muggy evening.
The Cure 909, $15
Artisan meat selections with condiments. It looked to include ham, salami, pepperoni, nuts, apple slices, mustard, and toasted baguette slices. All the meats were of very good quality. The mustard was very good, too.
They describe their “plates” as larger than an appetizer but smaller than a main course.
Fresh house made Burrata Cheese, $14
Fried green tomato, Calabrian chili and almond relish, with paprika pearls. This was a very tasty dish.
Grilled Shrimp, $15
Served with asparagus, Meyer lemon, ramp, potato, and black pepper. The shrimp was nicely cooked. The flavor, though, wasn’t anything special.
Chocolate Pot de Crème, $7
We ordered our dessert to share. Made with dark chocolate and sea salt, this was an incredibly rich and delicious dessert.
Vin 909 Winecafe, my take
The food was good to excellent. The service was pretty good, too. The ambiance, though, deteriorated as the evening wore on. The problem was the crowd of folks waiting to get seated.
There really wasn’t a problem at first. But as it was misty and lightly raining outside, the lobby area and vestibule gradually filled to overflowing. That meant more noise, and lots of people crowding all around us. Getting up at the end of the meal to use the Men’s Room meant making my way through what felt like a rugby scrum. Frankly, I think the restaurant was lucky a Fire Marshall didn’t stop by.
So, my recommendation is to not sit at the bar by the front door. There is a small section of the bar that extends into the dining area, which you can see in the photo above of the restaurant’s interior — it would have been much more comfortable. I’m sure we would have enjoyed our experience a lot more seated just about anywhere farther into the restaurant. As it was, though, it wasn’t terribly pleasant by evening’s end.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a problem if they accepted reservations. But then they’d have to be concerned about no-shows. Given their current policy, though, I think they need to get a better handle on crowd control. ♦