By Sandra Zunino
When restaurateur partners Brian Fox and Brendan Keegan first entertained the idea of purchasing Talbot 208 Restaurant in St. Michaels, they had no idea the town was literally counting on them for success. That was three years ago, and despite the pressure, they have disappointed no one thus far.
208’s original Chef/Owner Paul Milne recognized enthusiasm in the two, not only agreeing to sell the establishment to them over prospects with deeper pockets, but also helping them get off to a good start, according to Brendan. “He liked us and really worked with us to make it happen,” he says.
Due to outstanding cuisine and service, 208 Talbot had become a destination. Paul’s concern for maintaining the restaurant’s reputation reflected the opinion of the tourism-oriented town. Brendan and Brian felt the heat of keeping a beloved icon untarnished.
Fortunately, the five-star restaurant scene was familiar to Brendan who is 208’s executive chef. After college, Brendan attended L’Academie de Cuisine in Washington, D.C. From there, he worked in several upscale top-notch restaurants starting with D.C.’s Kincaid’s. “I really got an education there,” he says. “It was a great experience for me.”
For nearly a decade, Brandon continued to work in highly acclaimed fine dining restaurants from New York to D.C. and Maryland including Manhattan’s revered Prune restaurant. Deciding to remain in the Washington metropolitan area, he settled in Annapolis and soon reigned as the executive chef at O’Learys Seafood Restaurant.
Brian, 208’s general manager, was an executive in the corporate world in San Francisco, but dreamed one day of opening a restaurant. He eventually jumped into the Annapolis restaurant scene gaining a strong understanding of the food service industry and eventually accepted the position of director of operations at O’Learys Seafood Restaurant.
Fate brought Brendan and Brian together as brothers-in-law in the mid 90s. Talks of collaborating on a restaurant evolved over years and came to fruition when 208 Talbot became available for purchase.
As promised, 208’s reputation for fine dining and service continued, but the addition of 208’s Wine Bar was their innovation. Brian and Brendan renovated the bar area to streamline the space, provide more seating and create an upscale yet casual environment. Brendan designed the wine bar menu so a glass of wine would compliment each entrée. The result offered more choices for their patrons. “Anyone can come in either for a special occasion or for cocktail hour,” says Brandon.
Earning the nickname, “The Wine Guy,” Brian, a self-taught sommelier, created 208’s extensive wine list offering not only quality, but affordability as well. Many of the wines are available by the glass and Brian has personally tasted all of them.
In response to the recent economical climate, Brendan has instituted a comfort food menu, offering increased value for 208 patrons including a steak menu and Friday fish fry. “These are old standards that everyone likes,” says Brandon, “but prepared in classic 208 Talbot style with all the elegance you expect from a fine dining experience.”
“We’ve gotten an incredible response,” he adds.
In the distant future, Brandon says they would love to expand the restaurant to include outdoor dining, but for now, they intend to continue the outstanding dining and service that distinguishes 208 Talbot.
“We’ve really had a reputation to live up to,” says Brendan. “We are only just starting to prove ourselves.”