We recently took a trip through the Eastern Shore of Maryland and explored St. Michaels and Easton, then Ocean City, and back to Cambridge before heading home. Today I am covering our time spent in Easton and Oxford along with a recipe for Smith Island Cake. Here are my posts for Cambridge, Maryland (Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center, National Wildlife Refuge) and our stay at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort, Spa and Marina.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.
Easton is a small town located just off of Route 50 near the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. Known as the crossroads of Talbot County, it is centrally located as a starting point to visit other communities along the Eastern Shore and travelers will find a variety of shops, restaurants, and historical sites in the downtown area. It took us 1 1/2 hours to drive to Easton from Washington DC- about 70 miles. Plan the time of day you are traveling accordingly. Traffic on I-495 and across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge can really back up, particularly on the weekends during the summer.
For the first part of our trip, we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Easton. It is located on Ocean Gateway (Route 50) and only a 5 minute drive to downtown Easton/about 20 minutes to St. Michaels.
Overall the stay was nice, but prices were inflated since we visited during the IRONMAN Eagleman and most of the hotels in the area were already full. Our room was also next to the elevator and we heard a lot of noise in the hallway from people coming and going until about midnight since the race was the next day. Evan really enjoyed the indoor pool and the fresh fruit, water, and cookies offered in the lobby.
When exploring downtown, we parked in the lot off of N Washington Street between Goldsborough Street and Bay Street. This area is also home to the farmers market– open every Saturday, April to December, from 8-1 (live music 10:30-12:30).
For lunch, we had reservations at Scossa Restaurant & Lounge on N Washington Street. The shaded outdoor café was perfect for relaxing with the kids and the lunch menu offers a selection for children with items such as chicken fingers, pasta, sandwiches, calamari, and pizza. We had the Seafood Salad special and Beef Short Rib Ravioli while Evan and Claire enjoyed the kid’s pasta with red sauce. Claire especially loved the cheese bites that came in the bread basket. Everything was delicious, though I wish there had been a few more ravioli.
After lunch, we walked around to check out a few of the shops. The favorite for Evan and Claire was Crackerjacks Toys and Children’s Books.
The shop is filled with a variety of favorite and unique books, legos, toys, and board games. They especially enjoyed the train table. Evan picked out this Lego Make Your Own Movie Kit which was perfect for keeping him occupied at the hotels.
The Talbot County Courthouse is also located on N Washington Street. The original courthouse was created in 1712, before being razed to build the current building in 1794. It was remodeled in 1958 to form two wings and remove the front porch.
In front of the courthouse, you will find a statue of Frederick Douglass. He was born 12 miles from here in Talbot County. Nearby, archaeologists and historians have also recently uncovered The Hill, one of the oldest free African-American communities with a population of 410 by the first census in 1790.
Near the courthouse on Federal Street is Bumble Bee Juice, open 8-3, Monday-Saturday. They offer a variety of cold-pressed juices, smoothies, acai bowls, and honey. Evan is currently obsessed with bugs and was fascinated by all the bee memorabilia.
While the kids were fond of Crackerjacks, my favorite shop was Chef & Shower on Goldsborough Street. As the name suggests, you will find kitchen and bath goods here. There are a variety of Le Creuset, linens, gifts, and seafood related items to bring a bit of Maryland back home. The towel photographed with my featured Smith Island Cake was purchased here. I also picked up these fish popsicle molds that are so fun for summer and the perfect size for smaller children.
In the northern part of Easton, you will find Piazza Italian Market and the Amish Country Farmers Market. The Piazza Italian Market is a great place to stop for sandwiches, wine, Italian groceries, cheese, meats, and prepared meals.
The Amish Country Farmers Market is a large building with stalls that offer everything from furniture and decor to baked goods, meats, and cheeses. Both of these markets have a parking lot for easy access.
We also came across an amazing nautical-themed playground in the southern part of Easton at Idlewild Park. With engaging sections for toddlers and older children, Evan and Claire could have spent hours here.
For dinner, we drove to the nearby town of Oxford. Oxford is 10 miles south of Easton and 9 miles from St. Michaels (by way of the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry: the oldest private ferry service in the country).
Capsize recently opened and is located right on the water. Evan and Claire loved watching the boats go by. The waitress gave them goldfish crackers immediately when we were seated, so that kept them busy while waiting for their mac and cheese (served on frisbees). I enjoyed a Toasted Almond (my new favorite- Amaretto, Kahlúa, Baileys, Ice Cream) and the Confused Chicken (Smoked, Fried Chicken with Jalapeño Honey Syrup , Mac and Cheese, and Seasonal Vegetable- Asparagus for me). Chad had the Bruschetta Club with Boardwalk Fries. For those with dogs, the menu also features a small assortment of treats for them.
The other side of the Capsize building houses The Scottish Highland Creamery. It was the perfect way to beat the heat. Service is available through the window (CASH ONLY) with a couple of benches on the patio with minimal shade. Open seasonally.
Claire had about too much excitement for one day. She normally naps two hours in the afternoon at home, but rarely slows down when we are on vacation. Between the food and the scenic, calming water view from the restaurant, she finally succumbed to sleep (note: she was also sporting a black eye for most of our vacation due to a mild concussion sustained a couple of days before we left).
We were seated in the beautiful outdoor patio. I enjoyed the Milk Punch (recipe here) and Croque Madame. Chad had the Delmarva Omelette (Shaved Virginia Ham, Maryland Crab, Baby Spinach, Cheddar Cheese). Claire and Evan wanted a burger and peanut butter and jelly sandwich from the kids menu. For dessert, we tried a slice of Smith Island Cake. Evan especially loved the cake with its many layers and requested that we recreate it at home.
Notable mentions: Here are a few restaurants that I came across while planning the trip, but didn’t get a chance to visit.
Easton: Bartlett Pear Inn. Brasserie Brightwell. Doc’s Downtown Grille. Out of the Fire. Shore Barbecue Company. t at The General Store.
Oxford: Doc’s Sunset Grille
The Smith Island Cake comes from the small fishing village of Smith Island in the Chesapeake Bay, about 10 miles offshore on the border of Maryland and Virginia. It was declared the State Dessert of Maryland in 2008. The original version has 8-15 thin layers of yellow cake encompassed by a decadent chocolate fudge frosting. Each layer is baked individually, roughly 2/3 cup of batter per 9 inch circular cake pan. The thick frosting helped keep the cake fresh longer. Evaporated milk is included in both the cake and the frosting from the days when refrigeration was scarce to nonexistent.
While I made the traditional yellow cake with chocolate frosting, it can be found in many flavors. Other popular variations include coconut, strawberry, banana, orange, or even red velvet. We came across slices of the cake in different flavors on the dessert menu of a couple of restaurants in the Eastern Shore and on the room service menu at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay. You can also buy the cakes at the Smith Island Baking Company in Smith Island, Maryland. Here is more information on Smith Island and the Smith Island Cake.
I actually made the recipe I am sharing today twice. As written, this would make the exact amount of cake and frosting needed. Cakes are not exactly my strong suit so I needed the extra batter and especially more frosting to work with and create the perfect 10 layers.
I have 4 (9 inch) cake pans so I baked the cakes in batches. Having at least 3 will be helpful so you aren’t constantly re-greasing and baking cake layers. For easy removal, I lined the bottom of each cake pan with a circle of parchment. This helped with removing the cakes from the pans, but it also made it more difficult to evenly smooth out the batter before baking.
The cake layers can be made a day in advance. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap after cooled until ready to assemble.
2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter
2 cups granulated sugar
5 large eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Chocolate Fudge Frosting:
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup evaporated milk
5 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
To make the cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour up to 10 (9 inch) cake pans.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until smooth and light. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix into the butter mixture, one cup at a time, just until incorporated. Gently mix in the evaporated milk, water, and vanilla extract.
Place a scant 2/3 cup of the prepared batter into each greased cake pan. Use a small spatula or the back of a spoon to evenly smooth the batter. Place the pans on the center rack of the preheated oven and cook until the cake springs back when lightly touched and is no longer sizzling, 8-10 minutes. Allow to cool in the pan for 5 minutes before transferring to wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining batter, re-greasing the pans between use. Allow to cool completely before layering with frosting.
To make the frosting: In a medium saucepan, whisk together the sugar and evaporated milk over medium low heat. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the chocolate and butter. Continue to stir until completely melted. Cook, stirring occasionally, for another 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Allow to cool until thickened enough to spread and not completely fall down the sides of the cake.
Place one cooled cake layer on a cake plate or serving platter. Evenly spread about 2 large spoonfuls of cooled frosting over the top. Cover with another layer of cake. Repeat with more frosting and cake layers. Finish by covering to top and sides with the remaining frosting. Use a small spatula or the back of a spoon to evenly smooth the frosting into the grooves along the sides and incorporate any that has fallen down onto the plate. Store at room temperature and best if served within a couple of days.