Restaurant Review: Lewnes’ Steakhouse in Eastport, Annapolis, Offers History and Indulgence
Oct 19, 2015 11:16AM
● By Cate Reynolds
Simply IndulgentBy Rita Calvert // Photography by Tony Lewis, Jr.
Lewnes’ long history in the Annapolis neighborhood of Eastport—actually decades-long, since 1921—has earned it local legend status, deservedly so. A rare place that’s for locals and run by locals in a sailing town, Lewnes’ has been fattening up Annapolitans and visitors for four generations with its various lunchrooms, concessions, and restaurants. As the first Annapolis restaurant to feature U.S. Prime steaks, the Eastport anchor of the family’s ventures is rightly steak-centric and deeply rooted in its commitment to consistent quality, and elegance without pretension.
One enters the deep red corner landmark building, via the small simple bar where a casually gracious host extends a friendly greeting. In the deep-hued dining room, the cabernet colored bead board walls, high-backed dark upholstered booths, white tablecloths, and black-shaded steakhouse lamps make a statement of a quiet soothing environment. The waiters in their white jackets add to the ambiance of the dark clubby atmosphere with a throwback to the big band era as Sinatra croons in the background. Many proud black and white photos, propped on high shelves with uplighting, tell the story of this Greek family’s Annapolis immersion.
The straightforward menu hails to a time of quality and simplicity. Known for cornfed USDA prime quality beef that’s oh-so-tender with desirable fat marbling, Lewnes’ cooks its steaks under piping hot (1800 degrees) top broilers that sear in the juices while the meat caramelizes. These treasures are always doused with butter to finish. As starters go, there are few...six in all, including seafood standards with great American classics: Clams Casino, Shrimp Cocktail, and Oysters Rockefeller.
Lewnes’ boasts Wine Spectator “Best of Award of Excellence” awards year after year with a winning wine list of more than 450 wine selections to pair with your meal. Lewnes’ has more half bottles to choose from than other restaurants. If you are fortunate enough to dine in the Wine Room, the expansive wine cellar is showcased through windows adjacent to the dining tables. Aware of the sophisticated wine offerings, we asked for advice on our wine. We chose the half-bottle of Grgich Hills Estate Grown Dry Sauvignon Blanc-Fume Blanc, Napa Valley, California. Grgich’s vineyards are organic, which pleased us along with the floral, fruitful flavor.
Known as a special occasion restaurant, we saw many individual candles and wait staff sailing by. Under a huge mound of whipped cream, nestled a crunchy made-in-house brownie and a large dollop of Haagan-Daaz ice cream (as our server, Nick, was proud to highlight). In fact, when making our dinner reservations, the hostess asked me if it was a special occasion. Why, yes! My own birthday—so I can attest personally to how luscious that special dessert is!
Nick, with a very dry sense of humor, was our man for the evening and guided us through the range of self-styling options offered to the dishes on the menu. As he delivered the warm puffy boule of onion bread with triangles of butter, he explained, for example, that the unadulterated steaks have the potential to be topped with an Oscar embellishment of crab meat and hollandaise...it’s your choice. Also, appetizers can be designed and sampled as you like with a combo of three, four, or six each of Clams Casino, Oyster Rockefeller, Crab Balls, or Cocktail Shrimp.
Our Shrimp Cocktail arrived with six chilled crustaceans splayed on their sides, not quite the classic shrimp cocktail image of chilled shrimp curling over the rim of a glass, but lovely, none the less. The lemon half wrapped in netting was a reminder of those days when lemon seeds were elegantly kept in their place.
One of the few Lewnes’ “native land” influences showed in the Greek Salad. As Nick said, “It starts just like the house salad with chopped iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, and red onion.” To become the Greek emblem, pepperoncini, Kalamata olives (with pits), and a liberal topping of crumbled Feta cheese are added. The true tradition is shown by the bed of lemon flavored boiled potatoes anchoring the bottom. This style, my dining partner assured me, is Greek tradition. Lewnes’ serves their a la carte sides and salads family-style and claims that they are large enough to feed two and in our case, allowed for seconds.
Only five steaks are offered with prime rib, subject to availability, proving that the quality of the beef is the feature, not lots of beef renditions. Our first steak choice, Filet Mignon Petite was certainly large enough to satisfy, being melt in your mouth tender and full of flavor. I chose the Ribeye—tender, juicy, and rich, with all of the fat and marbling that gives the cut succulence. Both were pooled in butter.
Yaya’s recipe for Aegean Shrimp was the only other Greek influence on the menu. We ordered a sample, or half dish, of the Garides Scortholemono to sample. It is a variation of the classic scampi, although browned in olive oil; the sauce generously coats the bed of rice it rides.
Classic button mushrooms sautéed in our choice of butter over olive oil married perfectly with our steaks. It’s a rare place where you can find a good creamed spinach, or even an average version, for that matter. Very creamy here, with big nutmeg notes. The velvety vegetable side dish was the perfect texture for the entrees.
My complimentary birthday extravaganza arrived with candle in all its glory and was irresistible with the delectable crunch of warm brownie crust graced by the dollop of vanilla ice cream melting down. For a complementary sweet with tang, we sampled the Key Lime Pie—bright with the zip of fresh lime, it was a lovely tart/sweet finish.
In 1906, as Sam Lewnes shipped out from Sparta, Greece at the age of 14 with just over $25 to cover immigration, little did he dream of the legacy he would build in the new world. Sip and savor each and every bite of this extravagant experience, where the elegant wine flows, cocktails are hefty with alcohol, and the food, worthy of an evening’s dip into indulgence.
As a food writer, blogger, food stylist, photographer, Rita Calvert has partnered in writing cookbooks and developed product lines to showcase the inspiration, art and nourishment of food. She is a blogger, photographer and advisor for the food world. The Grassfed Gourmet Fires It Up! is her most recent book with co-author farmer, Michael Heller. After owning a successful restaurant in California, she has now been an Annapolis resident for 25 years