With all the talk about eating light, sometimes I think what people want most when they eat out is a great steak. By "great" I mean prime beef, well-trimmed but well-marbled and cut thick. The meat should be silky-tender with intensely robust, beefy flavor. Ideally it should be charred almost black on the outside, but cooked bloody rare to juicy pink inside. And a truly great steak should be served with butter melting down its sides in golden pools.
The porterhouse at Lewnes' Steakhouse in Annapolis meets all these criteria and more. I particularly like the sentence on the menu that says, "If requested, we'll hold the butter, or add more." (Italics are mine.)
Many of us, if we're still eating red meat, are eating smaller portions. So Lewnes' adds to the guilty pleasure by offering a pound and a half of this terrific steak. (Actually, the night we ate there the one special was a 3-pound porterhouse. I'm going to have to work my way up to that.)
The prime rib is almost as wonderful as the porterhouse and equally mammoth -- swimming in its flavorful natural juices with fresh horseradish on the side.
With beef this good, Lewnes' doesn't have to do much else to succeed. And, indeed, it doesn't. It has a typical steakhouse menu, notable only for its simplicity (and two Greek dishes -- the owners are of Greek descent). Everything is a la carte, but portions are so big the waiter suggests that one order of mashed potatoes is enough for three. And besides beef, here's something else Lewnes' excels at: those mashed potatoes. With their velvet texture, it's like eating a cloud.
Nothing else quite reaches these heights. Crab balls and clams casino are traditional versions, good but not extraordinary. The one soup, black bean, tastes freshly made and is quite spicy. A Greek salad (enough for three), made with iceberg lettuce, has all the usual ingredients plus cubed potatoes, a pleasant variation. An order of Lyonnaise potatoes (sauteed with onions) is fine but a bit too salty.
If you don't want beef, Lewnes' has a few other entrees. (If you don't want beef, why come here? But that's a different question.) One of my friends ordered blackened tuna, but made the mistake of saying she didn't want it rare. The handsome slab of fish, as fresh as could be, suffered as a result. It was a bit dry, as if "cooked through but still moist" wasn't an option.
Any room for dessert?
If anyone has room left for dessert, it's surely not enough room for a brownie with ice cream and whipped cream, creme brulee or strawberry shortcake. But these are three desserts made on the premises. Our waiter wasn't impressed by the creme brulee. We ordered instead what was a very fine brownie, but none of us could work up much interest.
So go to Lewnes' for the All-American Meal: steak and mashed potatoes.
And go for the service, professional and solicitous. (I didn't have to tell our waiter, for instance, that my steak was medium when I wanted medium rare. He noticed when I cut into it and whisked it away before I could say anything.)
And go for the atmosphere. Lewnes' is more of a tavern than I expected, given the prices. But the rooms, paneled in dark wood below off-white walls that are hung with vintage photographs, have a pleasing simplicity to them.
But don't go to Lewnes' if price is a consideration. That wonderful porterhouse is $27, which doesn't include mashed potatoes, or a salad, or anything but a sprig of parsley.
Where: 401 Fourth St., Annapolis
Hours: Open seven days a week for dinner only
Prices: Appetizers: $4.25-$10.95; entrees: $14.95-$26.95; AE, MC, V
Call: (410) 263-1617
Pub Date: 12/08/96