Issue: October 2004
Go West

Hunting for food in Annapolis? Follow the new brick road to the eateries of West Street.

 

     Whether you’re looking for a killer margarita, or some down-home sushi or maybe just a big juicy burger, chances are you’ll find it, and then some, on the “new” West Street, one of the thoroughfares that radiates off Church Circle at the top of Main Street in Annapolis-an easy walk from the city dock. The street itself has just undergone a major revitalization, with a new brick roadway running between its mix of Colonial and more modern facades.

     And the restaurants here are well worth the walk, with an international array of menus. West Street doesn’t get as crowded as Main Street, and while there are plenty of patrons for each establishment, you seldom have to wait for a table. I dine here often and have sampled each of the menus at least once.

     West Street is music central if you’re in the mood for listening as you dine. At the Ram’s Head you’ll find headliners like Taj Mahal and Arlo Guthrie, as well as up-and-comers on the national scene. You’ll also find a wonderful selection of Fordham microbrew-we confidently recommend any of the seasonal selections. You can make reservations for dinner and a show, but the restaurant is always open for dining if you’re not in the mood for music. The menu offers fairly standard fare, presented well-from fish and chips to surf and turf. A cozy tavern in the Ram’s Head basement serves up hearty sandwiches and great salads (also terrific nachos for two). You’ll always hear jazz during the Sunday brunch.

     Just up the street is Sean Donlon’s, an Irish pub with music nightly (no cover). The Guinness tap is always in motion, a sign that the stout is as good as you’ll get stateside. And there’s generally a crowd hanging around the dart boards in the front. The food here is magnificent. While the “Irish” side of the menu lists the old standards like fish and chips, Irish stew and shepherd’s pie, don’t overlook the seafood or steak entrees, or one of chef Michael Houghton’s nightly specials. Start with a bowl of seafood chowder-chock full of salmon, shrimp, white fish and scallops in a cream base (not too rich). Add a plate of whiskey shrimp, tart and sweet, or a serving of Lee’s Oysters Rockefeller, plenty spinachy. When I was there last, the chef was dishing up seafood fettuccine-scallops, shrimp and crab with a splash of bacon and spinach. The seafood was succulent, bursting with its own flavor, and the sauce enhanced rather than carried the dish. If you’re looking for something simple, order the hickory burger (one of a number of burger specialties), a hefty hunk of beef served with French fries.

     For dessert you’ve got to try the Xango Banana-a sort of banana cannoli, with fresh strawberries on the side. I’ve never tasted anything like it, although I understand it’s become something of a staple among dessert aficionados. While Sean Donlon’s is a lively spot, with an active dart game and a couple of TVs, conversations stop when the music starts-unless you want to shout at each other-but often the band will play an old favorite and singing along is all part of the party. If you go there for Sunday brunch, try the coddled eggs, with Irish salmon, and be warned: the Bloody Marys are plenty spicy.

     There’s music just about any time of day at 49 West, a few steps up from Sean Donlon’s. Here you can listen to the cream of local talent (and occasional visiting performers, as well): jazz, blues, acoustic folk, new age, late-night rock. The food is always good, and has an extensive range of vegetarian selections. Figure on whole grains and lots of leafy greens, with plenty of home-style soups and dynamite chili. I almost invariably order the spinach quiche, which comes with a side salad and leaves me with plenty of room for dessert. Dessert? Omigod! How to choose? The key lime mousse pie is incredible. The chocolate decadence cake is just that. Some people, I’m told, will order nothing but dessert at 49 West-or they’ll stop in just to sip a sour apple martini and listen to the music.

     Next door, Tsunami is just that, a tidal wave of flavor that rocks the block. Here you’ll find fresh sushi, along with an assortment of elegant international fare. This is no bar and grill-it’s by far the swankiest of the West Street eateries, with the most modern decor and the hippest clientele. I thought I’d been time warped to New York when I stopped in for a bite of supper. The true gourmand will be intrigued by the variety of sauces and interesting mix of flavors-like the anise and red wine sauce on the lamb chops. And the sushi lover will be well rewarded with variety and freshness. I tried the goat cheese and spinach dumplings, which were pleasant little numbers packed with flavor. And I went from there to the pan-roasted duck with sweet-and-sour blood orange sauce, served on a bed of black truffle-lotus root gratin. The duck (domestic) was rich and tender, and the lotus root was an interesting change from potatoes-not something I’d be likely to whip up in the home kitchen. For dessert I treated myself to the Napoleon brownie served with coconut ice cream. Not too sweet, the brownie was layered Napoleon-style with a thick filling of ground nuts. The ice cream was just the right partner for this dainty dish, and the good news was that I didn’t feel as if I had to run 10 miles to work it off. This is not the place to come if you’re looking for a slab of prime rib: The food here is excellent, satisfying and beautifully served, but it doesn’t fill up the plate and I daresay doggie bags are rare.

     Crossing to the other side of West Street is like crossing an ocean. At Luna Blu, an Italian restaurant, the simple decor creates an intimate atmosphere; this is a good spot for a quiet celebration or a romantic dinner for two. A friend and I stopped in one evening and ordered the dinner special: for $30 each we had our pick of appetizer, entree and dessert, with a house salad beside. We chose mussels and escargots to start. The mussels were excellent; the escargots, served with a marsala and cream sauce over a delicate puff pastry, were filling enough to make a meal. I had ordered one of the evening specials: crab and shrimp served with red sauce over penne pasta. The sauce was similar to that served with the escargots, and though it was plenty tasty, I felt like I was just eating more of the same thing. My friend, however, had ordered one of the menu staples: salmon, served with scallops and crabmeat over sauteed spinach in a creamy Alfredo sauce. Now, that little number was to die for-something in the sauce just made the fish splash in your mouth. It was hard to take just one bite, but I’d have gotten a fork through my wrist if I’d reached for more. For dessert we tried the tiramisu and a helping of zabaglione (because it was so much fun to say). Both made a sweet ending to a delightful meal.

     If you’re in the mood for something south of the border, El Toro Bravo is the place to go. First off, they serve killer margaritas: regular or “Cadillac.” For those looking for something non-alcoholic, try one of the Mexican sodas; I like the mandarin flavor, very sweet, but refreshing and a nice change from iced tea. Salsa and chips arrive on the table on your arrival (you can order a helping of guacamole to go with them). A glance at the menu can be a tad overwhelming unless you’re well versed in Mexican cuisine. There seems to be so much variety and so many combinations that it’s hard to choose. The waitresses are very helpful, explaining different dishes and suggesting combination meals-No. 14, for example: one enchilada, one tamale, one burrito. On the more formal side of the menu, there is plenty of seafood, steak and chicken to choose from. I went with the grilled shrimp with garlic, served with rice and salad. It was nicely done, but the more everyday fare is more fun. No one can put a wrap on food like a great Mexican cook, and the burritos and enchiladas at El Toro are a fine and satisfying way to dine-with or without the margarita. For a real treat, order dessert. The flan (a simple egg custard) reminded me of the ones my mom used to make, wholesome and good. For something more exotic, try the sopaipilla: puff pastry served with butter, honey and

cinnamon (ice cream optional, but completely unnecessary). West Street is a little farther away from the waterfront, and it doesn’t offer a water view, but its restaurants are top-notch and ready to satisfy all comers.

 

     To reach West Street from the Annapolis city dock, walk up Main Street and halfway around Church Circle. There is some on-street parking and Sean Donlon’s has its own small lot, but visitors are better off using the public garage on Calvert Street, which connects West Street and Rowe Boulevard. The restaurants accept Visa, Mastercard and American Express.

     Ram’s Head is open daily for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch. Tavern fare $6–$13; entrees $8–$33; brunch $7–$13. Go to www.ramsheadtavern.com to check out who’s playing and to order tickets. 410-268-4545.

     Sean Donlon’s is open daily for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch. Entrees $12–$23; sandwiches and burgers $7–$10; brunch $5–$12. Music every night (no cover). 410-263-1993.

     49 West is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Breakfast $2–$9; lunch $7–$10; dinner $7–$25; dessert $3–$5.50. Go to www.49westcoffeehouse.com to see who’s playing in the “back room” and to reserve a table (there will be a per person cover charge added to your tab). Music in the front room is for all to enjoy. 410-626-9796.

     Tsunami is open for lunch Monday through Friday (11 a.m.–3 p.m.) and

daily for dinner (starting at 5 p.m.). Entrees $17–$27; sushi $3–$10. Weekend reservations recommended. 410-990-9868.

     Luna Blu Italian Ristorante is open for lunch Monday through Friday (11 a.m.–2:30 p.m.) and dinner Monday through Saturday (starting at 5 p.m.); closed on Sunday. Entrees $13–$23. Weekend reservations recommended. 410-267-9950.

     El Toro Bravo is open daily for lunch (11 a.m.–3 p.m.) and dinner (starting at 5 p.m.). Entrees $7.50–$13.50; combinations $7.50–$9.50. 410-267-5949.