About 18,000 people call Easton home, just about the number of people who live in Dupont Circle. In recent years, Easton residents have had access to things like 23-year Glenmorangie grand vintage whiskey served in the shadow of book-matched marble, cheesemonger-curated charcuterie, and bone broth sipping cups drawn from the tap — all of which are putting the tiny town on the map as a bonafide dining destination. But not even 15 years ago, practically the only malted anything in downtown Easton came from the soda counter at a mom-and-pop drug store — with a cherry on top.
Over the past decade, eccentric energy tycoon Paul Prager has made it his mission to flood Easton with cosmopolitan restaurants and shops that he owns and oversees through his Bluepoint Hospitality Group. At lightning speed, Bluepoint recruited both local and NYC-based talent to create a portfolio of restaurants that would stand out in any major city, let alone a sleepy town on the Eastern Shore once best known for its waterfowl festival.
Bluepoint maintains nine culinary establishments within one square mile, and 13 properties overall. The latest is P. Bordier Crêperie and Patisserie, which just opened this month.
Now well-established in Easton, and to the ire of some Talbot County natives, Prager isn’t done dreaming. He’s trying to stake out a benevolent legacy in a town that’s stubbornly proud of its character, occasionally hostile to outsiders, and very much struggling with socioeconomic inequality.
“[Easton] is a beautiful town with a vibrant, nostalgic past, and in my opinion, the prospect of a lasting renaissance,” says Prager.
The Washington restaurant world has pulled Bluepoint — located just over an hour’s drive from D.C. — into its orbit. But Prager doesn’t care. He sees Bluepoint as a standalone enterprise that’s in touch with, but not beholden to, hot trends in the culinary world.
“We’re not thinking about what’s ‘hot’ in the moment: the interiors, the menus,” he says. “It’s about timeless design and cuisine that will be appreciated for generations.”
Viennese fine dining marvel Bas Rouge is, as Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema put it, Bluepoint’s “crown jewel.”
Bluepoint executive chef and Talbot County transplant Harley Peet and chef de cuisine Phil Lind, a British alum of St. Michaels’s revered Inn at Perry Cabin, lean into local ingredients to send out sumptuous dishes like braised veal cheeks over spaetzle and port wine jus, venison loin with chestnut puree, and glazed maitake with butternut squash.
Over at the Stewart, pair rare Champagnes and scotches with caviar blini and sticky toffee pudding prepared by chef de cuisine David Kneller, an Eastern Shore native.
Perhaps the best introduction to Bluepoint is a visit to the Wardroom, an emporium of fine wines, oils, condiments, expertly curated charcuterie boards, and homemade gnocchi. Next-door cafe Weather Gage serves olive oil cake and La Colombe coffee in a brass-colored space with 19th-century nautical motifs.
For something more casual, consider Sunflowers & Greens — a salad shop with Asian and Mediterranean influences — or Bumble Bee Juice, a cold-pressed juicery boasting Aronia (chokeberry) bowls and bone broth on tap.
Down the hill, there’s Roma Alla Pala offering Roman-style “paddle pizza” slices and pies where chef Todd Lindeberg makes the dough.
Head to Bonheur for amaretto raspberry crumble ice cream, seasonal pies made fresh daily, and on Fridays, afternoon tea.
Today, Prager owns about half of Easton’s historic downtown. Jeeringly or lovingly, locals dub it “Pragerville,” as Bluepoint’s footprint cannot go unnoticed. In recent years, a lot has been said about the character of Easton. Downtown has long meant main street for gentleman farmers, Chesapeake watermen, and painters en plein air — with a historic regional theater and George W. Bush cabinet member celebrity bingo to boot. Easton’s is a very specific quaintness. Locals are inordinately knowledgeable about Frederick Douglass and blue herons. Camo-clad fowlers trade duck calls over buckets of iced coffee from homegrown chain Rise Up, whose “Organic Maryland Coffee” is now sold at Whole Foods.
There’s no doubt the 2008 financial crisis rattled the town hard. Small businesses shuttered en masse and locals feared that the town’s days as a stronghold of Maryland Tidewater culture were numbered. Now, downtown Easton’s shops are (mostly) full again, a feat many attribute to Prager.
The Brooklyn native first fell for Talbot County during his time as a Naval Academy midshipman in Annapolis. In the aftermath of the Great Recession — which, for many towns like Easton, never quite let up — Prager presaged recent years’ mass exodus from large cities. He merged his passions for Easton and epicureanism, buying up vacant storefronts to build Bluepoint. Chalk it up to coincidence or clairvoyance, some of Prager’s restaurants could be considered a draw for moneyed pandemic exiles who’ve had it with uppity Sag Harbor. Still, Prager says that Bluepoint is committed to its vision of a sophisticated yet unpretentious operation that engages with locals and newcomers alike.
What does Prager say to skeptics who feel priced out or otherwise alienated by Bluepoint? “This could not be farther from the truth, really,” Prager insisted in a prepared response. The Wardroom’s bottle markup, for instance, hovers at 15 to 20 percent compared to 70 percent for most restaurants.
“Though, naturally, quality comes at a slightly higher price point,” Prager wrote, “we find that most guests are happy to pay the extra dollar for a scoop of house-made ice cream, made daily with exceptional ingredients at Bonheur.” The extra bit is invested right back into our local employees and economy, he adds.
Between professional development programs and regular visits from big names — Hirohisa Hayashi of New York’s Michelin-starred Hirohisa came down for the weekend last fall — Prager aims to keep Bluepoint fresh by investing in his team as well as the community. During Bluepoint’s annual “Winter Sabbatical,” visiting chefs spend two or more weeks with the culinary team. Some team members even commute. General manager Ben Chekroun — who spent 27 years at NYC’s three-Michelin-starred Le Bernardin — and beverage director and sommelier Natalie Tapken — whose wine program brought three separate Wine Spectator awards home to Bluepoint in 2022 — make the trip from New York City to work Thursday to Sunday in Easton. They stay at the former Bartlett Pear Inn, which Prager repurposed as employee housing. Cheesemonger Andrea Barnes and service director Matt Duré have both fully relocated to Easton from New York City.
So what’s next? P. Bordier Crêperie and Patisserie opened its doors just last week. Prager says to expect more than just crepes. Hearty French classics kouign amann and savory galettes with Comté, smoked trout, creme fraiche, and caviar fillings will complement ice cream and pies at next-door sibling Bonheur. A spokesperson for Bluepoint confirmed that more restaurants are in the works, and that Bluepoint is also looking to expand its bakery operations. Stay tuned for a boutique hotel.