This time on Tomato, Stacey checks in with a review of the Cornette's evening at Annabel Lee's Tavern in Baltimore MD.

The front door of this old haunt built in the early 1900's greets the locals with a line from the tavern's namesake Poe poem--"the happiset day, the happiest hour"--and a happy hour it is when you visit Annabel Lee's.

This black and white corner Victorian really puts the "charm" in the Charm City of Baltimore. A small tavern with a dark and mysterious look, Old wooden floors, deep burgundy walls, and Poe poems handpainted in calligraphy everywhere. The beautiful portraits of the famous poet are the work of the owner-proprieter, Kurt X. Bragunier, who has put a lot of work into the place in the few years it's been open. The period melodies in the background really added to the ambience and made you feel as if you were in another century.

Their famously-named martinis, including the "Tell-Tale Tini", "The Raven", "Masque of the Red Death" and more, are quite tasty and tie into the whole Poe atmosphere. I chose the "Madeleine", as "Fall of the House of Usher" is one of my favorite Vincent Price films. Slightly sweet, with a mixture of orange and cranberry, this "tini" was excellent. Trying four other "tinis" over the course of the evening, my favorite was the last, "The Pit and the Pendulum." Jim was not as brave as I and stuck with his trusty Sprite with a screwdriver on the side.

The menu was simply brilliant. My choice for an appetizer was a flaky, pastry-wrapped baby brie with a raspberry reduction, served with toast points. If you have never had baked brie, you have no idea what you're missing. Words cannot describe the flavors of the buttery pastry and the melted cheese which oozes like lava when you slice into it. The raspberry sauce on the side gave an added element of sweetness to what I thought was an already perfect starter.

Jim had a hard time choosing between two appetizers, so naturally he picked both. Being a "wing afficianado", he loved the plump "Old Bay" wings, but his favorite dish of the night was the giant barbecued prawns wrapped in bacon. SO favorite that he got two orders of those as well. Rather than the traditional "sauced" wings, Annabel Lee's wings are all drummies generously dry-rubbed with Old Bay seasoning and served with a side of spicy, ranch-like remoulade. The prawns were huge, tossed in a mildly spicy BBQ sauce with a hint of smoke, wrapped in bacon and served four to a skewer. The other starters looked delicious as well, including duck fat fries, mini crabcakes, chicken satay and more--I was thinking if the dinner menu was anything like the appetizers, we would be here all night.

A second "tini" in and smiling ear to ear, our plates were removed and we began looking at the fantastic dinner menu. It was a hard decision but I went with a flawlessly cooked filet mignon stuffed with melted boursin cheese, served over one of the creamiest mushroom risottos I have ever had. The flavor of the melted cheese combined with the seared filet was just divine. To say I was surprised would be an understatement.

Jim had the beautiful lump crabcakes, which were done to perfection. Many restaurants use way too much breading as filler, creating more "cake" than "crab". Not here! Colossal pieces of lump crab in every bite, golden brown, tender not dry, flaky not mushy. They didn't even need the horseradish-spiked remoulade that the chef had prepared. Jim was gobsmacked.

With no room left for their delicious dessert menu, we left Annabel Lee's with happy tummies and huge smiles on our faces, vowing to make this a regular stop in Baltimore. Next to "Jim's" Sabatino's, this is easliy my favorite restaurant in the Charm City. I highly recommend making the trip . You don't have to be a Ravens fan to enjoy the perks of this gorgeous city. From Geppi's Entertainment & Comic Book Museum, to the Camden Yards ballpark, swanky-hip neighborhoods like Canton and Fells Point, and the gorgeous waterfront views and nightlife of the Inner Harbor, it's always best experienced first hand via water taxi.Make a night of it and enjoy.

But, to experience culinary Shangri-La that reaches far beyond the steamed blue crabs that Maryland is famous for, try Annabel Lee's. There is no better place to find a cure when hunger comes tap-tap-tapping on your chamber door.

Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore--What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore, Meant in croaking, "Nevermore!"

Annabel Lee Tavern
601 South Clinton Street
Baltimore, MD 21224-4008

phone 410-522-2929 fax 410-522-2992