Dining out: Harry Browne's still merits place among elite
By TERRA WALTERS, For The Capital
There’s a lot to be said for being the “go-to guy.” The go-to guy is the one who can be relied upon, the one who can step up, the one people consider when they’re looking for that positive outcome.
For more than 25 years, Harry Browne’s has been one of those go-to guys.
A State Circle landmark, this restaurant appeals to a wide variety of diners from legislators to locals. At any given time, even tourists have the good fortune to wander away from the dock area and discover this jewel.
Even though there have been some changes at Harry Browne’s over the years, they’ve all been for the good. All of this is due to the diligent and ongoing efforts of Rusty Romo who learned his food and restaurant savvy from his Uncle Harry (yes, you guessed it, his Uncle Harry Browne). Executive Chef James Turner, a graduate of the illustrious Baltimore International College Institute of Culinary Arts, has brought the menu into the 21st century with nods to such influences as pan-Asian and contemporary European cuisine.
There are so many goodies to study on the Harry Browne’s menu that my dinner companion and I decided to just order some wine and take our take making our selections. It was a frosty winter night (one of the few we ve had) so we decided to go with a red wine.
There are many temptations on the Harry Browne wine list with few apparent bargains; but if you select carefully, you can find something that will be tasty both for sipping and for an accompaniment to your meal. The wine list also has a section of half-bottles for smaller parties or for those who would prefer having a half-bottle of white or bubbly with appetizers and then switching to red for the main course. I m not sure I would pay $25 for a half-bottle of Trefethen cab (as much as I love it!), but the half-bottle of Ca Montini pinot grigio for $15? That’s in the ballpark. Our choice that evening was the 2002 Morgan syrah ($34) and it served us very well.
The appetizer section of the menu, though limited to seven items, is most compelling. Two items that we ve previously enjoyed >from that list (Tomato and White Bean Bruschetta with Olive Tempanade for $8 and the classic rendition of steamed mussels for $10) took a back seat to our desire to try something new.
Our ultimate choice was the Crispy Fried Oysters with Cucumber and Mizuna Salad accompanied by a Soy Ginger Dipping Sauce ($13) and we were delighted with the results. The oysters, encased in a delicious crispy crust were fresh, firm, and pleasantly briny. The little salad was delectable and the sauce was so good that we have to admit to dipping a bit of bread into that instead of the olive oil.
Having decided to forgo an after-dinner movie, we two friends of long standing decided to just enjoy a long and leisurely meal while we indulged ourselves in a couple of hours of catching up on each other’s lives. Consequently, we decided to do the — soup to nuts kind of meal and ordered a salad to share after the appetizer.
We settled on the Caesar Salad with Parmesan Crisps ($8) and our server, Al, kindly divided it for us and brought the two mini-salads beautifully presented on separate plates. Ah, those touches! We LOVE those touches that are the mark of schooled and professional service.
The list of main courses is similarly selective, but choosing among these 11 items was more difficult than choosing from many much lengthier menus. For example, both the Vegetable Wellington with Smoked Tomato Coulis ($23) and the Pan Roasted Rockfish with Grilled Asparagus, Fingerling Potatoes, Salsify and Artichokes with a Shellfish Saffron Sauce ($28) got serious consideration before losing out to the lamb and the rib eye.
The Pistaschio Crusted Rack of Lamb ($34) came with brioche, mascarpone cheese zucchini and yellow squash tart, and a rosemary mint demi-glaze. The lamb was excellent, perfectly prepared and sufficient for dinner and a sizeable take-home portion. The tart, inspired in terms of concept, seemed to lack punch. The diner enjoyed the squashes and cheese but wondered if a different kind of crust might be worth a try. The rosemary and mint demi-glaze, on the other hand, was sheer perfection.
The diner who was in the mood for steak that evening ordered the rib eye (Ridgefield Farms Aged Hereford Beef) and had it presented done to the exact requested temperature ( medium-rare, please, but more toward the rare than toward the medium ). The steak was felicitously accompanied by a crispy garlic risotto cake, tiny English peas, roasted cipollini onions and morels, and a to-die-for cognac demi-glaze. With enough steak left for a delicious steak salad for the next-day’s lunch, this item was a bargain at $33.
It is always appreciated when servers recognize one’s preferred pace for dining and get on board with it. Our server, Al, was attentive throughout the evening but never hovered. As a result, we felt no pressure whatsoever to race through our meal.
Having enjoyed our meal so much thus far, it went without saying that we have to find a dessert to share. Again, there were several enticements but we settled on the Crème Brulee Trio ($8) and were rewarded with delicious custardy renditions of vanilla crème brulee, espresso crème brulee and chocolate.
What else could we do to prolong this exquisite evening? Espresso ($2) for the adventurous one and decaf ($2) for the other. Uncle Harry, you must be smiling down!
WHEN YOU GO
WHAT: Harry Browne’s
WHERE: 66 State Circle, Annapolis
EXECUTIVE CHEF: James Turner
WEB SITE: www.harrybrownes.com
HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Saturday for lunch; dinner is served 5:30-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday and until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. for brunch and 4:30-9 p.m. for dinner.
PRICE RANGE OF ENTRÉES: $23-$35
CREDIT CARDS: All major credit cards are accepted.
RESERVATIONS: Reservations are accepted and strongly recommended on weekends.
HANDICAPPED ACCESS: Yes