On a breezy July afternoon, chef Robert Wiedmaier offered his guests morsels of savory-sweet Maryland crab, a taste of what would be on the menu that evening. The meal—also spotlighting fresh rockfish and Chesapeake Gold oysters—was not being served at one of his seven area restaurants, which include Marcel’s, Brasserie Beck and Mussel Bar & Grille. Instead, Wiedmaier was whipping up a dinner for eight at his family’s sprawling weekend home near Solomons Island, Maryland.
“Let’s go fishing,” he called out to his buddies, who were relaxing over mojitos on the screened porch. “The blue fish are kickin’ big time.”
Only 75 minutes from his home in Kensington, Wiedmaier’s four-acre property on the Patuxent River might as well be a world away from the pressure-cooker lifestyle of a successful DC chef/restaurateur. Robert, his wife Polly and their sons Marcel, 15, and Beck, 11, escape as often as possible to this retreat where they fish, waterski, ride dirt bikes, kayak and even go duck- and goose-hunting (minus Mom). With two fishing boats at the ready—an 18-foot Parker for solo trips and a 32-foot Luhrs for larger expeditions—Robert regularly hauls in rockfish and blue fish, along with crabs off the dock and oysters from beds just offshore.
The Wiedmaiers literally stumbled upon the property during one of many drives spent looking for a weekend home on Maryland’s western shore. “We happened to be driving down Rousby Hall Road and there was a Sotheby’s sign,” Robert recalls. They turned down the long, sweeping drive, “saw this house and fell in love with it.” They were sold on its proximity to DC, its prime waterfront location and pier and the inviting, five-bedroom house that had been recently renovated.
“We wanted to be on the water but Polly didn’t want it to be remote,” explains Robert. “To the left of the property, we can see the mouth of the Chesapeake. To the right, there’s Solomons Island.”
The house revealed another surprise: It is built around a two-story, circa-1670 customs house where taxes were once collected for the King of England from ships entering the Patuxent. The original brick walls, fireplace and wood-beam ceiling have been restored in the historic sitting room located to the right of the home’s main entry. A ladder leads to the upstairs bedroom where the customs agent once slept.
Despite this centuries-old gem, the rest of the home is practically new. After a larger home had been built around the customs house in the 1950s, previous owners hired Annapolis architect Charles Anthony in 2003 to design an addition, which encompasses a vaulted great room with an open dining area and kitchen, a ground-floor master suite, a basement with a media room and wine cellar and a free-standing garage with a guest apartment above it.
“The house has just the right amount of charm and age,” says Polly. “In the old sitting room, you feel the history of the place—but I wouldn’t want to own a whole house that old. When you walk into the big, new, bright part [of the house], it’s just easy. It’s a great combination.”
The Wiedmaiers were convinced. They purchased the home and tapped Arlington designer Charles Craig—who recently transformed Marcel’s lounge—to help with some of the décor. They’ve been enjoying it ever since. “Once I get onto Route 4, my stress level goes way down. And when I walk out to the water, it feels like I’m far away from DC,” says Robert.
Polly, chief marketing officer of their RW Restaurant Group, agrees, “I’m outside so much more here. We take the boats out and go to different restaurants on the water, whereas at home, I’m usually inside at my desk.” Meals on the bay are casual affairs, often cooked on a trusty charcoal grill—a far cry from the haute cuisine and white linens of Marcel’s.
From a young age, Robert Wiedmaier loved to cook and gravitated to the kitchen, where his American mother and Belgian grandmother taught him the ropes. “They were both awesome cooks,” he recalls. “When they went to the local markets, I would tag along.” His Belgian-born father, who emigrated to the U.S. during World War II, worked overseas for the U.S. Air Force for decades. Robert grew up mostly in Germany and Belgium and attended culinary school in the Netherlands. Then he moved to Washington, gaining experience in such culinary standouts as the Four Seasons’ Aux Beaux Champs and the Watergate’s Jean-Louis, where he replaced renowned chef Jean-Louis Palladin.
In 1999, Wiedmaier opened his own fine French restaurant, Marcel’s, named for his newborn son. Since then, there have been many debuts. Brasserie Beck now has two locations and Mussel Bar & Grille has three, with a fourth opening in Baltimore’s Harbor East this fall—in addition to BRABO in Alexandria and Wildwood Kitchen in Bethesda.
Wiedmaier sees potential synergy between his bay property and the restaurants. “I am going to build a chicken coop and a greenhouse and do honeybees. I want to grow things that I’ll be proud to serve in the restaurants,” he explains. “I’ve always enjoyed working on farms. It ties in with the full circle of hunting, fishing and cooking.”
Whether he is grilling oysters, sipping bourbon around the bonfire with friends or plotting out his future greenhouse, Wiedmaier is in his element on the shore, where he and Polly will move permanently once Marcel and Beck leave home.
Originally, Robert wished for a 100-acre getaway. “But Polly told me, ‘You’ve got thousands and thousands of acres in front of you…in the water,’” he recounts with a booming laugh. “I said, ‘That’s a great way of looking at it.’ It’s nice to be able to go down to the boat and just take off.”
Geoffrey Hodgdon is a photographer in Deale, Maryland.