Food

Weekend Escapes: A Chesapeake-Chic Inn and Restaurant Are Opening in Charming St. Michaels in July

Boutique property The Wildset and Ruse restaurant are from the sisterly talent behind Nashville's popular Henrietta Red.

The Wildset inn and Ruse restaurant are opening in charming St. Michaels in July. Photography by Maya Oren

If you’re dreaming of a weekend escape from the city, a new coastal-chic inn and restaurant are coming to one of the Eastern Shore’s most charming waterfront towns. Sisters and native Washingtonians Allie Balin and K.C. Lager, along with DC-based developer and owner Mihran Erkilitian, are opening The Wildset inn and seafood-centric Ruse in St. Michaels, Maryland in mid-July. The sisters were also behind the opening of Nashville’s Henrietta Red, a seasonal American spot that earned “best new restaurant” accolades from the James Beard Awards, Bon Appetit, and others after it debuted four years ago.

Rooms channel a crisp, coastal-chic design. Photograph by Maya Oren.

Balin, a former co-owner of Henrietta Red, is also an established sommelier. Lager, founder of Kathryn Lager Design Studios, is responsible for the airy look of the restaurant. The duo will take on similar roles for the Erkiletian Development-owned project in St. Michaels—a destination that’s a little over 1.5 hours from DC (the Erkiletian family also own a home in town). Lager completely refurbished three historic buildings along the small town’s main street—previously an inn and spa. The new look is crisp, Eastern Shore-chic across 34 rooms and common areas, a small coffee and sundries shop, full-service restaurant, and outdoor spaces outfitted with fire pits, lawn chairs, and eventually a pool. Many of the rooms have fireplaces or small private balconies or porches for sitting outside with a glass of wine in the evening. The woman-led operation added touches like books, paintings, and photographs by female authors and artists throughout the space. Prices will vary by day of the week, size of room (i.e. standard vs. suite) and season—generally $140 to $550 during peak summer weeks, and less in spring and fall.  

“We want the overall guest experience to be a middle ground between a super luxury property like [nearby] Perry Cabin or a b&b with doilies,” says Balin.

The inn and restaurant spread across three historic buildings in the center of town. Photograph by Maya Oren.

The name Wildset refers to a group of wild oysters, so naturally you’ll find bivalves on the menu at Ruse (as for that meaning, “ruse” is a nod to St. Michaels’s nickname from the War of 1812, “the town that fooled the British”). Chef Michael Correll, previously head chef at Tagliata in Baltimore, will helm the kitchen of the 78-seat modern American restaurant. Though many ingredients and culinary traditions will pull from the Chesapeake and Mid-Atlantic, the team plans to look further afield. Balin and Lager are both based in Lake Tahoe, and Lager spent years working in the Los Angeles design scene. 

“A lot of our influences come from being by the water, not necessarily just from here—the California coast or European hand-painted tiles on the oyster bar,” says Lager. The 11-seat bar will shuck bivalves from New England and the West Coast alongside local, and Chesapeake crab might show up in light riff on a louie salad instead of the usual cake.

The hotel is pet-friendly–just ask pup Penelope Erkiletian. Photograph by Maya Oren.

“Fresh, coastal—bright vegetable dishes or a light fried fish sandwich—slightly elevated but not that you can’t go in a baseball cap and have a really delicious meal,” says Balin when describing Ruse. For her wine selection, the somm says she plans to open with a summer-y list of light, chill-able reds and sparkling wines to match with oyster towers, plus lots of white wine. “I don’t think this is the market to do crazy 100 percent no-sulfur natural wines, but we’ll bring in smaller producers and change the list seasonally. We want to disrupt things a bit.”

Bathrooms are designed to be luxurious escapes. Photograph by Maya Oren.

The Wildset is slated to open mid-July with 15 rooms and Ruse restaurant. The remaining 19 rooms will open over the next two months, while the pool is scheduled to open next year. 

The Wildset. 209 N Talbot St., St. Micahels, MD. 

Many rooms boast fireplaces or small, private outdoor areas. Photograph by Maya Oren.

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Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.