When people ask me where to take out-of-towners to eat, several great places, from crab houses to waterfront restaurants, come to mind. But there's one more hidden gem I always include on the list: Annabel Lee Tavern.
This Canton find, owned by Kurt Bragunier since 2007, pays tribute to the last poem written by Edgar Allan Poe. A black front door with a white-cursive inscription greets customers with a few poignant words from the work: "A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling My Beautiful Annabel Lee."
There are black raven plaques (the bird, not our football team) on the white exterior, channeling another Poe poem. Inside, there are still more reminders of the Gothic author, who died mysteriously in the city in 1849.
But there's nothing ominous about the cozy Annabel Lee Tavern. The staff is genial, and chef Daiveon "Dee" Jacobs serves a creative menu of well-prepared, eclectic dishes.
The place is small, and reservations are encouraged to make sure you get one of the 50 seats at the bar and tables.
Don't wait for a visitor to go to Annabel Lee. Locals will appreciate its merits, as well.
Scene & Decor The corner bar restaurant with burgundy walls, Poe memorabilia and lines from "Annabel Lee" is a fun place to discuss the beloved writer — or to just hang out. We were seated at a high-top table by a window on a quiet evening, and enjoyed the '40s music playing on the sound system. There are also a few tables with umbrellas on the sidewalk, but I prefer sitting inside this quaint pub.
Appetizers Our starters were fantastic. The chunky buffalo mushrooms ($9) were glazed with a wonderful hot sauce and served with blue cheese dressing and celery sticks. The blackened tuna wontons ($14) exceeded expectations. The tuna was expertly seared while the interior remained pink and moist. The crusted slices were accompanied by crisp wontons folded like pointy taco shells, shredded cabbage and carrots, and soy and wasabi sauces.
Entrees The excellent barbecue shrimp and grits ($23) were enriched with decadent pork belly cubes, spinach, peppers and onions. The generous shrimp stew was ladled over cheddar grits. The grilled tuna panini ($15.25) is an Annabel Lee staple, and I have never tired of it over the years. The grilled flatbread is stuffed with hunks of seared tuna, crab dip, Old Bay tomato salad and cheddar-Jack cheese. The walloping sandwich comes with Old Bay fries, which we exchanged for the restaurant's terrific duck-fat fries ($2 extra) dusted with herbes de Provence.
Drinks The Poe-themed cocktail menu features concoctions like the Masque of the Red Death with blackberry vodka, pomegranate liqueur, peach schnapps and cranberry juice. Other beverages include microbrews and domestic and imported beers, as well as a list of familiar wines.
Service Our pleasant waiter was also a bartender that evening. He managed both jobs well.
Dessert The Edgar A. pate ($8), a triple-chocolate creation, is an enticing wonder that has been on the menu since the tavern's beginning. It's enhanced with an indulgent Madeira raspberry sauce and pillows of whipped cream. The salted caramel crunch cake ($8) is another treat, featuring a tender vanilla-flecked cake layered with caramel crunch and custard.
Annabel Lee Tavern
Backstory: Kurt Bragunier, who describes himself as a "huge Poe fan," was the general manager at The Brewer's Art in Mount Vernon for several years before opening Annabel Lee Tavern in 2007.
Signature dish: Grilled tuna panini
Where: 601 S. Clinton St., Canton
Contact: 410-522-2929, annabelleetavern.com
Open: Kitchen: 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday; late-night menu served after the kitchen closes until 12:30 a.m. daily
Credit Cards: All major
Reservations: Accepts reservations
Bottom line: As Annabel Lee Tavern enters its 10th year, it hasn't missed a beat, serving intriguing food in a setting devoted to Edgar Allan Poe.