Annabel Lee Tavern
601 South Clinton Street, Baltimore
Tucked in the edge of Highlandtown is a quaint little tavern that pays homage to Edgar Allen Poe and his final poem, “Annabel Lee.” Walking in felt like entering a scene from a period movie. The elegantly macabre atmosphere was filled with sounds of fiddlers fiddling tunes to which Poe himself might drunkenly have stumbled. The bartender was quick to introduce us to a variety of the latest offerings on the brew market. After a long day, I quickly became distracted by the drinks and live music.
To compliment the performers, every Tuesday night, the chef pairs recipes from a mid-1800s cookbook to further enhance this trip back in time. Owner Kurt Bragunier had us try the Vichyssoise, a chilled, lightly creamy summer soup of potato and leek – heavy on the flavor, light on the stomach. Kurt also brought us bacon-wrapped asparagus with an orange-ginger sauce drizzled atop. Over a hundred years later and bacon is still the king of the food pyramid. Trying to imagine what the typical fare was like back then, I was surprised how similar these two items are to those found on menus today.
The regular menu listed some of the usual standards, so we made our own seafood buffet of crab cakes, shrimp dishes and baked brie, along with duck fat fries that may leave you ruined for any other kind. Kurt shared two versions with us: the house duck fat fries and the sweet potato fries. The duck fat created a crispy layer around meaty cuts of shoestring potatoes, seasoned with sea salt and a house herb blend. The savory blend deserves some sort of comfort food award. The sweet potato fries were a different combo of house cut sweet potatoes with a spiced brown sugar coating. It was like Thanksgiving, but without the drama.
The baked brie was encased in a perfect ratio of puff pastry to cheese without being too oozy. The sweetness of the pecans enhanced this appetizer even further.
The blend of sweet and savory flavors continued with the seafood. The shrimp and grits truly stood apart from the many versions I’ve had before. The chef enhances the rich gravy with his secret sauce blend used for the sweet potato fries to create something that is both unique and familiar.
While I’m not into curry or vegetarian dishes, their Mango Vegetable Curry maintained the sweet and savory flow with a variety of veggies, cranberries and shrimp over couscous – tasty when you’re hankering for something different.
The crab cake had a mild flavor. I imagine it was the standard Chesapeake recipe before Old Bay was invented. If you aren’t a true Baltimorean who demands the red spice, this version is designed for you. But even for being mild, the greens sautéed with pepper and lots of bacon enhanced the main dish in the old Southern ways of Maryland.
Annabel Lee is a charming stop with great food, perfect for that first date or just a casual night out with good friends. You even have the option of asking for the “sweethearts’ table,” complete with an engraving kit to memorialize you and your special lover’s initials.
- Michael Ritmiller is a Baltimore native and foodie whose professional career spans across a variety of research & development initiatives in addition to serving local non-profits that benefit the community. An avid believer in supporting small restauranteurs, Michael began writing for Baltimore OUTloud in 2018 with the intent of identifying who offers the “best of” dishes around town.