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Restaurant Review: Lewnes’ Steak House

Dec 14, 2017 09:00AM

Lewnes’ Steak House // 401 Fourth Street, Annapolis // 410-263-1617

Dinner: Mon.–Thurs. 4–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 4–10:30 p.m., Sunday 4–9 p.m. Reservations recommended. Award-winning wine list. Major credit cards. Handicapped accessible. On-street parking. Carry out available with notice. $$$

Pleases the public by staying true to classics

By Mary Lou Baker // Photography by Tony Lewis, Jr.

It’s early on a Sunday evening and Lewnes’ Steak House is so quiet it seems like Frank Sinatra is singing just for you. Something seems special about this place. Tucked shyly into a corner along Eastport’s Restaurant Row, this local favorite is the very antithesis of the “fast casual” restaurant establishments so dominant these days.

Revered as one of our town’s most historic restaurants, Lewnes’ origin dates back to 1906 when 14-year-old Sam Lewnes migrated from Greece, worked in New York for several years, and, in 1913, moved to Annapolis and married Cecilia Mandris, sister of his friend Nick, creating a felicitous union of two Greek families. The rest is history, eventually leading to the establishment of Lewnes’ Steak House in honor of that boy who arrived at Ellis Island so long ago.

Over the years, its present location has stuck to a formula that began with the first prime-aged steaks served in the area and evolved into somewhere special because of an extraordinary wine cellar, personalized service with an owner-presence, and a quietly luxurious ambiance resembling a private club. The restaurant has recently gone mod with the option of carry out and, as the word spreads, that branch has begun to thrive, according to restaurant manager Joshua Malter. In a post-review visit phone call, he told me about a recent order for 120 steaks and 80 meals ordered to-go for attendees at a medical meeting in town. “And we did it,” he said, not bothering to hide the awe he felt in recounting the achievement. Malter also surprised me with the news that its signature Greek salad is a particularly popular take-out item—who knew?

But a major part of the magic that Lewnes’ creates for its dining-in clients is the restaurant’s unique ambiance. Leather-lined booths create intimate spaces for celebrating special occasions or holding off-site business meetings; tables for groups are strategically located in the upstairs dining rooms. The lights are low and so is the noise level. The building itself is modest and the foyer, featuring a tiny bar area, is equally modest. First impressions change as you are greeted and escorted to your table with some ceremony. Let the feasting begin.

And it does, but at your own pace. Our white-coated server made it plain he was there to make us happy and encouraged us to relax and enjoy. “No rush,” he said soothingly. So, spend some time perusing a wine list that reads like a Who’s Who in the wine world. If long-time (20 years) wine manager Patrick Kelly is around, let him share his broad knowledge and love of wine with you. On our review visit, we sampled a sliver of the largesse with a glass of 2013 Sean Minor from Carneros, California, priced at $12.95, as are all the wines-by-the-glass. My thoughts on this: “Life is too short to drink bad wine,” is wise advice, but a few more affordable choices would sell more wine.

While Lewnes’ wine list may be daunting, its menu is simple. Choices are limited to the classics and chances are you came here for a superior steak. But first, chances are you might order Spiro’s Famous Greek Salad as a side ($6.25) or an entrée ($12.25). We shared this generous mix of greens, red onions, olives, and tomatoes in a “secret dressing” that could be addictive. The kitchen does a good job with a classic Oysters Rockefeller ($12.95) and shrimp cocktail ($11.95) speaks for itself. Soup of that day was a generous serving of shrimp bisque—flavorful and garnished with a whole shrimp. A shot of sherry would’ve made it a tad more colorful.
No help needed, but it takes a seasoned broiler chef accustomed to working with an oven that reaches 800 degrees to make Lewnes’ beef special. A unique seasoning flavored the petite filet ($34.95) I choose over other options (New York strip, prime rib, Porterhouse, rib eye) and relished every tender bite. My request for béarnaise sauce on the side was readily filled—though not listed on the menu. Our waiter also brought a wee container of peppercorn brandy sauce, left untouched.

Meanwhile, my dining companion was giddy about his giant veal chop ($33.95), a special treat not often found on local menus. I can recommend Lewnes’ lamb chops ($31.55) from previous visits and on our review visit wished I had some friends along to share that evening’s special: a 3- to 4-pound Maine lobster ($24 per pound) served cracked and ready for consumption. The kitchen has a supplier in Maine that stands ready to deliver for special occasions in-season.

Vegetables here are cousins to those offered at other steakhouses (sautéed mushrooms, asparagus, creamed spinach, sautéed spinach, fried onion rings, and potatoes). I chose and loved the still-crisp bright green steamed asparagus but had tamer enthusiasm for Spinach a la George, which could’ve used more onions.

But we both succumbed to the charms of a crowd-pleasing dessert of a homemade brownie piled high with vanilla ice cream ribboned with chocolate sauce and swirled with ice cream. It was a sweet ending to a sweet evening—one that calls for a special occasion to justify the splurge.

Mary Lou Baker is a frequent contributor to What’s Up? Media publications and self-professed gourmand. She has authored numerous culinary articles and recently penned the book Seafood Lover’s Chesapeake Bay: Restaurants, Markets, Recipes & Traditions.

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