Eats In The Maryland Manor: a Reminiscence About The Peter Pan Inn
Prologue January 8, 2012
This page replaces my heavily-trafficked Eats In The Maryland Manor: a Reminiscence About The Peter Pan Inn that was posted in 2007.
Sad to say this wonderful old place on Route 355 in Urbana, MD closed for good in October of 2011. It is therefore the first entry into my new web pages which make up my Dining Guide of The Past. You can see a lot of Peter Pan material as pop-ups if you click on the photos at right. Over time I will add to the dining guide more closed and old restaurants in Wahington, DC and Baltimore areas. -- Neal Conway
Original article from October, 2007
Like most other children of my generation, I, during a few years I was either side of seven, detested eating in restaurants. Dining out was a big deal in my boyhood and a deal that usually involved dressing up. I didn't mind wearing a little jacket and tie but I detested having to sit for an hour-plus in boring places eating food that I did not like.
I loved Burger Chef, not only because its burgers were tasty, but because there weren't even places for diners to sit on its premises. You took your food and got out. It was wonderful. I still don't like throwing gobs of life away by getting bogged down in mundane maintenance things like the typical daily meal and toiletry. All my clothes are permanent press.
Dining areas in fast-food joints were not installed until around 1970. And the only place that deliberately attempted to make eating out fun for kids was Shakey's Pizza. There was a player piano, if not live entertainment, and one could watch the chefs tossing the pizza which was delicious.
But what made a civilized diner of a fidgeting 10-year-old barbarian who filled up on bread and played table hockey with the salt shaker was a restaurant-atmosphere formula practiced by a couple of German families in Maryland. Their approach was to fill up their joints with antiques. Surroundings packed with a clutter of marble statues and old oil paintings in ponderous gilt frames fulfilled the average guy's idea of "class." The Haussners brought all Baltimore and beyond to their establishment on Eastern Ave., but the place I know better was out in the country near Frederick, in the tiny crossroads called Urbana. This was, of course, the Baumgardners' Peter Pan Inn.
The Peter Pan property, a wedge of land where MD Route 85 meets Route 355 has been the site of a public accommodation since 1796. It was probably a stop on the first or second night out of Georgetown. Twentieth Century additions stretch out from an inn built in 1848. A small family cemetery from that era is around back by the kitchen. Owner Mrs. Baumgardner opened the restaurant in 1926. It was The Jazz Age and Baumgardner's son and heir was Dick "Hot Cha" Gardner, a vaudeville singer. Annexed to the original house was an art-deco club called the Hot Cha. From the 50s through the 70s, the Peter Pan was the place to go and long was the line of people waiting to order their dinners at the little bank-teller window before they were seated.
But waiting and dining at the Peter Pan wasn’t the purgatory it was at other places. The Baumgardners had so adorned the property with Victorian antiques, kooky old furniture, statues and other gauds, it was a feast for the eyes. There was something interesting to see everywhere one looked, including live peafowl. Of course, one hoped to see the cocks fanning their tails. The tables were supported by antique sewing-machine bases. Fidgety feet could work the treadles and remnant pulleys. One could watch the table candles floating like boats in large goblets. Wine came in this fancy gadget from which dripped it into the glass.
The food was a feast, too. Quickly after one was seated came a revolving relish tray that featured apple butter. I believe the only two entrees were fried chicken and T-bone steak, a nice relief from the detestable horrors and slops that I struggled to get down at other establishments. I can still remember the peas, deep green, al dente and in a tangy butter sauce. The Peter Pan Inn was noted for its “corn fritters” or “hush puppies,” little fried balls of corn meal dusted with powdered sugar.
But like all other good things, this came to an end. By the late 70s, the lines were gone and merely one of the five dining rooms was more than sufficient to serve patrons like us who came every Halloween and Christmas. I believe our last meal there was at Christmas of ’83. The place was then closed for several years.
Under new ownership, the place was reopened as the Cracked Claw at Peter Pan Inn and much of the dining space is given over to off-track betting. Some of the old fixtures and furniture remain, but a lot was sold off and for years could be found floating around the flea markets and antique shops of nearby Frederick. Huge crab legs are popular entrees, but for those who like to see ghosts and time-travel, there are still T-bone steaks and hush puppies on the menu.