Wednesday, July 9, 2008

An Evening with Annabel Lee

by Erin

"But we loved with a love that was more than love-

I and my Annabel Lee."

--E.A.Poe

Last weekend, after our wonderful July 4th celebration, I went over to Xani's new house, Clementine (we're trying that name out for now), to help her unpack and put up artwork and figure out where everything goes in that big house of hers. After a long day of unpacking and sweating (she's having some A/C issues), we realized how late it had gotten. It wasn't the clanging of The Bells that told us, but the growling of our stomachs! We thought about just walking somewhere in Federal Hill, like Don't Know Tavern or Ledos Pizza or the little Salvadoran joint called Elvis (don't ask me what Elvis has to do with El Salvador), but then we thought, this is the perfect opportunity to go somewhere on our list! We consulted the list and decided to go to a new-ish bar and restaurant in the Canton/Highlandtown area called Annabel Lee Tavern. We had heard great things about Annabel Lee, and we were eager to try it out for ourselves.

Annabel Lee is the name of a sad love poem written by the great poet Edgar Allen Poe. Poe is one of Baltimore's most famous figures, having died here, and he is buried outside of Westminster Hall, which is connected to the University of Maryland School of Law (where the entire BCD family has attended law school). Creepy, but cool! Annabel Lee Tavern, in essence, is centered around Poe and Baltimore and the connection between the two. Since I have always loved Poe, and I certainly love Baltimore, I was really looking forward to checking it out.

When we walked up to the bar, we went through a heavy door with a lion's head knocker on the front (so we then quoted the scene in Young Frankenstein: "What knockers!" "Why zhank you, doctor."). Without any rapping or tapping on this chamber door we walked in and found... darkness there, and nothing more. Actually, we found it to be a cozy and comfortable space. Xani and I took a seat at the bar and had a look around. The walls are dark but it's not too gloomy, and there are Poe quotes painted on the purple walls, along with a large portrait of Poe himself, who seems to watch over the restaurant. We took a look at the menus and the specials written up on the chalkboard.

But first, we looked at the drinks menu! One great thing about Annabel Lee is that the owner is the former general manager of The Brewer's Art, one of our favorite bars in the city and certainly the best place to get a beer. Annabel Lee carries several of the Brewer's beers and we were looking forward to trying one called the Amontillado--- I mean, Le Canard. Unfortunately, they were all out of that, so the owner (we think) recommended that we order a beer called Southampton Saison. This was a great choice. The beer was really flavorful without being too severe (remember, I am a beer wimp) and the bonus: it came in a great big bottle! Xani and I shared it throughout the evening (so technically we each only had half a beer, if you're counting).

Then it was onto the food! We ordered the raven duck fat fries to start. Though they were not as good as the ones Xani makes at home, they were far better than any others we've had at a restaurant. They were crispy and definitely had the duck fat flavor to them, although they were a bit salty and a tad greasy in the end. Still, very delicious and served piping hot!

For our mains, we ordered the Greek Salad and the Lamburger Sliders. Both dishes were excellent! The greek salad had delicious fresh greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, kalamata olives, a wonderful Israeli sheep's milk feta cheese (much softer than regular feta, like a French feta), a couple dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), and a nice vinaigrette.

The lamburger sliders were also wonderful. Unlike other lamburger sliders we've had, these were served with bacon and cheddar -- what could be bad?? They were perfectly cooked and very substantial for sliders.

The sliders were served with a little cup of very decent blue cheese cole slaw. But my favorite thing on the plate was the sweet potato fries, fried up and tossed with cajun spices and brown sugar. YUM! These were probably the best sweet potato fries I've ever had. I feel like restaurants make sweet potato fries and then they stop there - no seasoning, no "ta-da!" I'm supposed to be impressed because you cut up a sweet potato and fried it? But here, oh no, they really jazzed them up, and it was totally worth it! Just awesome. I want them RIGHT NOW.

Did we have dessert? Nevermore. Well, not this time at least, but we did linger for a while at the bar and chatted with the staff and some other patrons. It was a really homey place with excellent food, and I only wish it were closer to my house! As we were leaving the restaurant and walking down the street to our car, the man we had been chatting with behind the bar (the owner, we believe-- we should have gotten his name!) called after us and said "tear up the planks! --here, here! --it is the beating of his hideous heart!'" No, actually he just waved and thanked us for coming. But how nice! This is what I'm talking about when I say Baltimore really is Charm City.

We highly recommend Annabel Lee Tavern for a wonderfully cozy time and a delicious meal. We'll be back!

EP

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Fourth of July Breakfast: red, white and Blue Moon Cafe!

by Xani

You know how sometimes, you get, like, a sign that you should go to a certain place? Like an unseen hand is guiding you there? [Cue the sound of crickets chirping] Ok, maybe it's just me. But a few weeks ago EP and I found ourselves in Fell's Point in the early morning. We had just visited the new Harbor East Farmer's Market (and were surprised how small it was-- guess we're used to the big shindig under 83 on Sundays) and I had a yucky summer cold and I wanted some delicious breakfast to take my mind off of how miserable I felt. As we wandered down Broadway in search of of an open place to get breakfast (it was EARLY!) a thought came to my mind: Blue Moon Cafe!



For those of you who aren't familiar with Blue Moon, it is thought to be one of the best breakfast spots in Baltimore. It's notorious for its over-the-top breakfast dishes and the loooong waits, especially on weekend mornings. So, of course when we walked in, early on that Saturday, there was a wait. About thirty minutes, they said. So we waited. And waited. In the heat. Sweating. Thirty minutes came and went and still we waited. Finally, I couldn't wait any longer. I was sick! I needed sustenance! So we bailed on Blue Moon and had a mediocre breakfast elsewhere. We vowed to come back to Blue moon some other time...

Then, the very next day, I was innocently flipping channels, and landed on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives on Food Network. And where was that loveable spiky-haired host?? BLUE MOON CAFE IN BALTIMORE. And all the patrons are happily eating their delicious breakfasts, mugging for the camera and saying "This is the best breakfast in Baltimore!" Mocking me. And it was right then that I felt the universe pointing me back to Blue Moon, guiding me, telling me "You will get breakfast there, and you will do so on the Fourth of July!"

And so we did. We gathered a few friends (not too many-- Blue Moon is small and our six person party was about the biggest they could handle) and arrived at Blue Moon at 8:30am on the Fourth. And yes, there was a wait. After about 45 minutes we were finally seated and all felt right with the world!!

Straight away our waitress came over and took our drink orders ("need coffee--STAT!") and asked if we would like to start off with a cinnamon roll. Matt (one of our dining companions) answered with a definitive "YES" before any of us had time to think about it. This was possibly one of the best decisions ever made-- the cinnamon bun was out of this world. And I don't even like cinnamon buns! It was served really warm, with melt-y drippy, creamy frosting all over it. The bun was really tender and soft, with rich, sticky cinnamon swirls. It was sooo sweet, perfect with coffee after that long wait outside.

Then, we ordered our real breakfast-- in addition to their regular breakfast menu, they have a board with all their specials:

On this fateful day, the board listed two of the specials I had seen features on Food Network: The Cap'n Crunch French Toast and "Guido's Savory Meat Roll" which is sausage, pesto and cheese all rolled up in biscuit dough, sliced and baked, then topped with sauteed onions and peppers, and served with two eggs any style. Our dining companions ordered a variety of omelettes and scrambles, and creamed chipped beef on toast. When all the breakfasts came out I finally felt complete-- especially when my french toast arrived with a festive sparkler!!

Happy Birthday America! Love, Cap'n Crunch

Creamed Chipped Beef

Omelette of the Day

There's a meal roll somewhere in there...

What a great breakfast! The meat roll was so delicious-- all those great flavors wrapped up in fluffy, buttery biscuit dough! Matt's creamed chipped beef was a heart attack on a plate, but in a good way, and all the omelette's came with Blue Moon's legendary hash brown potatoes (which are, as EP would say, the bomb.com) and biscuits with homemade jam. I was slightly disappointed with the Cap'n Crunch french toast; it wasn't as crunchy as I had hoped, and I've tasted a better version at the Cottage Cafe down the ocean, hon. But I finally got my fun, funky, FILLING breakfast that was my destiny.

We polished off as much of the food as we could, and lingered over coffee for a few minutes before clearing out to make room for the looong line of hungry, hot patrons waiting outside (suckers!). It was a great way to start off the holiday, and thanks to all my friends for getting up early on their day off to wait in line for breakfast! Hope everyone had a great holiday weekend!

X


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