La Famiglia e Tutto–Family is everything–is the greeting on the wall, which also displays numerous vintage black and white family photos. The greeting, like the ownership, is new. But the Oxford Inn and Pope’s Tavern in Oxford is an institution. Built around the 1880s, the Inn, which consists of nine rooms and a restaurant, is located on one of the oldest streets in America.
New owners Scott and Jeanne Prisco are not from the area, nor were they in the hospitality/restaurant business. Scott, a trained architect and owner of a large architectural engineering firm, was designing futuristic K-12 schools using sustainable strategies that were 20 years ahead of its time. He spent time in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and New Jersey, which eventually led to a job as the chief building official for the city and county of Denver, Colorado.
But the call to return east to be closer to family was strong, and they started looking at inns with restaurants. The Priscos had always enjoyed entertaining large groups of friends and family. And there was also the matter of putting to use Scott’s grandmother’s authentic Italian recipes. A restaurant with a bed and breakfast component seemed the logical choice, and even though it was something they aspired to do in the future, it began to make sense in the present. It just so happened that the Oxford Inn and Pope’s Tavern was for sale, and it was the right location and the right price, and the deal was struck. Now all they needed was a talented chef.
That’s where Anthony Grandepioggia comes in. Chef Anthony, a highly rated chef for the past 40 years in the New York City area, had also considered purchasing the Oxford Inn. He had, for a time, lived in this area and wanted to return. Now all he needed was a restaurant. Chef Anthony reached out to the Priscos.
It was an ideal match.
“Jean and I had the vision of what a perfect plate should look like,” says Scott. “It’s easy for me to cook a dinner for 12-15 family members and have it come out perfect. But it’s hard to cook 30 different items on a menu and have them all come out the way you want. Anthony is amazing. Take the light, crispy, and tender calamari; it’s wonderful. Even the odd things on the menu—like my mom used to serve Chicken Parmesan with Fettuccine Alfredo—Anthony makes it come out looking and tasting as delicious as she used to make it.”
That’s because Chef Anthony has the food industry in his veins. Armed with a passion for cooking and a family history of people in the food business, he made a name for himself, working at some top-rated Italian restaurants in the Queens/Long Island area. But, did the many years of working in top Italian restaurants conflict with working for someone new in the industry who insisted on using his grandmother’s recipes?
“Anthony has a wealth of knowledge,” says Scott. “We did some tastings with family and friends and got opinions. I had my Chicken Marsala, and he had his, and because our menu is so traditional, everyone sided with his. We compared the Chicken Piccata, and his had a little more lemon zest to it than mine, and mine had more capers, and everyone favored my piccata. The bottom line is that if I make a suggestion, he’s very open to it, and if he makes a suggestion, I’m very open to it. So, it’s a good team approach that we have.”
Chef Anthony had an even more direct observation: “There’s a lot of prima donnas in the industry, chefs that want to do things the real basic, hard-nosed Italian way. Scott agrees with me most of the time, but if there’s something he really wants, I just shut up and do what I’m told. That’s the name of the business.”
But one thing Chef Anthony will not capitulate on is his tiramisu, and Scott is perfectly in agreement with that. “I tell everyone that comes here that this will be the best tiramisu that you’ve ever had,” Scott said. “I’ve eaten in thousands of restaurants in my lifetime, and Anthony’s tiramisu is the best I’ve ever eaten anywhere.”
Even if you’ve eaten at a restaurant where Chef Anthony has worked, don’t think you’ve had his tiramisu because this tiramisu is specific to this restaurant.: “If something happened,” he said, “and I was to move on, I would never do this tiramisu again. Every restaurant has its own identity, and every restaurant deserves to have at least one dessert that is unique to its identity.”
There is a lot of planning involved in creating a signature dish. But there is another dessert on the menu that was not planned but which is receiving rave reviews. It happened like this: Chef Anthony was making the filling for their homemade cannoli (sweet filling usually made out of ricotta or mascarpone) when something went wrong. But like any great chef, he was able to turn the error into a masterpiece. “The mascarpone I was using was too loose; it was almost two-thirds of the way a cheesecake. So, I invented what I call the Cannoli Cheesecake. It was stupid luck, but it worked out.”
Of course, starting a restaurant is challenging, even with an excellent chef by your side. The hours are long, and Scott often finds himself waking up at dawn and working until midnight. There’s breakfast to serve his inn guests and pies and pasta to be made.
Oh, did we not mention that they make their pasta fresh every morning? Yeah, there’s that. If that’s not enough to bring you in, check out their incredibly extensive and impressive wine list coupled with a vast knowledge of food/wine pairings.
With so many interesting possibilities on the menu, it’s easy to forget that the restaurant is only half of the business. There’s the inn part as well, and that seems to be doing just fine. “We feel very blessed,” says Scott. “I think because of what we went through with COVID, there’s a pent-up desire to be out right now. And we’re the recipient of that. We’re really, really busy. Every weekend is full, and we’re starting to fill up during the week, as well.”
As the Priscos successfully settle into their new life, we couldn’t help but wonder what happened to Scott Prisco, the environmentally-conscious architect?
Well, he’s still here.
Look around the property and see the new LED compliant fixtures and the recycling dumpsters. But there’s more: “We’re mindful about what we order,” he says, “making sure that we’re using all the products and that we don’t have a lot of waste, not just from a financial point of view, but from a right-thing-to-do point of view. We’re also trying to support local vendors. We get our ice cream from the (Scottish Highland) Creamery, and we get a lot of our produce from Teddy Bear Fresh.”
Changes are also evident in the restaurant, including the noise deadening panels and the textured simulated ash tables. One more thing is worth noting, and it’s a big one—the restaurant’s name. What used to be The Oxford Inn & Pope’s Tavern is now The Oxford Inn & Pope’s Tavern & Market. That’s because you will be able to stop in and shop for not only wines, olives, cheeses, and meats, but also the delicious freshly made pasta and sauces that you can make at home. There’s also talk of a catering business…but we digress. That’s in the future.
For now, the emphasis for the Priscos and Chef Anthony is expanding the famiglia. Says Scott: “That’s what we’re about—creating and enlarging our family to include Oxford, Easton, and the surrounding areas. We love to entertain, and we love people. We love to cook, and we love good food and good wine. And we want to extend that to the community.”
So, go for a visit, say hi to the new owners, pick up some pasta and sauce for dinner or make a reservation (strongly recommended) and enjoy the meal and the atmosphere. But whatever you do, save room for the tiramisu.
The Oxford Inn & Pope’s Tavern & Market is located at 504 South Morris St., in Oxford, Md. The restaurant is open from 5:00pm to 9:30pm. Closed on Tuesdays. For reservations call 410-226-5220 or check them out online or on Facebook.
Val Cavalheri is a transplant to the Eastern Shore, having lived in Northern Virginia for the past 20 years. She’s been a writer, editor and professional photographer for various publications, including the Washington Post.