It’s hard for Steve Mangasarian to forget the early days of high cuisine on the Eastern Shore. After years of training with some of the top chefs in the New York City area and a few years in Vermont bringing a new brand of American food to the rural communities along the Connecticut River, a mixture of a love of sailing and dislike of snow, Mangasarian relocated to Easton to replicate his haute cuisine mission in Talbot County.
With fine dining restricted to places like 208 Talbot in St. Michaels and the Tidewater Inn in Easton, the opening of Columbia on Washington Street was the birth of a new era for the Mid-Shore. Rather than having to cross the Bay Bridge, diners could discover how our extraordinary local ingredients could be used to produce an exceptional dining experience.
After years of success and high praise from customers as well as accolades from critic forums like Zagats, Steve retired with plans to leave the kitchen pursuing other passions, but that plan didn’t last long. Within a year, he was back with the management of the beloved Hill’s Drug Store sandwich shoppe and the opening of Breakfast in Easton, the popular, cash-only morning grill. And eventually, he and his partner decided to open Banning’s Tavern to recapture the fun and comfort of a traditional English pub.
The Spy talked to Steve about his remarkable culinary history in Talbot County as well as the challenges he and his fellow restaurateurs are experiencing as he slowly brings Banning’s back to life after suffering through the pains of the COVID pandemic.