Even if you are not among the fortunate few who are accepted as students at the United States Naval Academy, you and your family are more than welcome to visit this internationally renowned campus in the heart of Annapolis. And when you come, you are invited to enjoy breakfast, lunch or snacks at the spacious Drydock Restaurant in Dahlgren Hall or weekday lunch at a more formal venue called The Alley at the Naval Academy Club just inside Gate 3. Beyond the history, comradery, and pride, be sure to check out either of these USNA restaurants upon your visit.
Security measures adopted after 9/11 limit public access to the USNA campus, known as the Yard. Visitors are encouraged to walk in at Gate 1, on King George Street. All visitors 18 or older must present a valid ID (such as a driver’s license or passport) as they enter.
Once inside, most folks enter the Armel-Leftwich Visitor Center to marvel at the extensive exhibits tracing the history of the USNA and its illustrious graduates. There were a mere 50 students taught by four officers and three civilians when it was founded in 1845 as the Naval School at Fort Severn, becoming the USNA five years later. Today, approximately 4,400 midshipmen choose from among 25 academic majors leading to a Bachelor of Science degree for all graduates.
Dry Dock Restaurant
There is always action on the Yard, where groups of uniformed plebes march in formation behind midshipmen leaders and individual students walk briskly to and from classes. Join the parade and head for Dahlgren Hall to find the Drydock Restaurant, open Sat-Sun from 10 am-3 pm, Fri 7 am-9 pm and Mon-Thurs 7 am-3 pm. The restaurant is accessible from the seaward side; or around the front on the landward side by hanging a left at the tennis courts.
From the front, down the steps you go left into the Drydock, stopping to notice the model of a Wright B-1 Flyer suspended from the ceiling. There is no place quite like it, and the scope of its memorabilia collection. While the fare is basic, the setting is awe-inspiring. A section of this historic hall, now used for galas or ceremonial purposes, has been set aside for public dining.
On our visit, hordes of Boy Scouts chowed down on burgers, pizzas, sandwiches and house-made cookies. Their leaders gave them permission to explore the premises, decorated with photos and framed memorabilia of the Navy’s military and aviation history.
Wait times depend on the season and time of day. In July, most of the midshipmen are elsewhere and your fellow diners are apt to be fellow tourists. I recommend you include a visit here for the super-friendly staff who add personality to the experience, for the cheesesteak subs, for the customized sandwiches and mostly for the amazing photos and artifacts that tell a proud and honorable story of the United States history.
The Alley, once a bowling alley downstairs in the Navy Academy Club (formerly the Officer’s Club) just inside Gate 3 near the USNA Chapel, offers a more formal dining scene. So, if it’s a weekday and you’re feeling festive, enjoy an elegant setting, impeccable service and excellent fare at this special place. A narrow bar, always busy, is separated from the dining area by a glass wall and a hammered tin ceiling adds to the old-fashioned atmosphere, reminiscent of a ship’s wardroom. Comfortable booths and separate tables are conducive to conversation and people watching. See if you can spy an Admiral in the mix, just for fun.
Executive Chef Randy Pyren oversees the menu, where a broiled Maryland lump crab cake is a best seller and the sherried cream of crab soup is a winner. We also sampled a traditional club sandwich with a twist – avocado slices piled atop sliced turkey, bacon, cheddar cheese, tomato and lettuce on white toast moistened with a garlicky mayo. My companion and I shared an appetizer of Black Angus grilled beef sliders under caramelized onions, melted cheddar and horseradish mayo – served rare, as ordered. There are so many tempting options on the regular menu (including soups, salads, and a plant-based Annapolitan and Beyond Burger) that you may overlook the daily chef’s buffet special at $12.95. (soup, salad bar, entrée, starch, vegetable, dessert) or the chef’s soup and salad bar at $9.95.
There is a full bar and a good selection of wines as well as unique desserts, most $6: homemade chocolate mousse made with Callebaut chocolate, Key Lime Pie, Cuban Brandy Flan, Campfire Smores (lava cake with crème anglaise and marshmallow topping, and a retro Root Beer Float crowned with a double scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Lunch here qualifies as a special occasion, available to the public Mon-Fri 11 am-2 pm at very reasonable prices. It is a great way to entertain out-of-town visitors – and a way for local residents to enjoy the many perks of sharing a hometown with the USNA restaurants.