Big menu eschewed fads; dining became an Event; Entering an earlier era, loyal customers left calorie-counting behind


Every city needs a restaurant like Haussner's.

Devotees feel passionate about it, and not just because of the food.

"If they change one iota, if they move one painting, it will be a disaster," local restaurant consultant Diane Neas said when she heard about the closing.

Of all Baltimore's eating places, Haussner's best embodies the city's past. Step into the large main dining room, with its fabled art collection, dark-paneled walls, spotless white table linens and waitresses known for their longevity, and you step into another era.

It was an era when you went to a restaurant to have a great time. You didn't worry about your waistline. You didn't order your tuna rare or put balsamic vinaigrette on mesclun greens. You reveled in rich crab imperial, sour beef, dumplings smothered in gravy, crisp-edged potato pancakes and fried eggplant.

That's the sort of food Haussner's always served. Crab Clinton (crab, Smithfield ham and spinach with a brandy cream sauce over pasta) is one of the few nods to the present in name at least, and it's not exactly spa cuisine.

Former Gov. and Mayor William Donald Schaefer used to eat at Haussner's almost every Saturday night and still has dinner there regularly.

"It's an institution the city can ill afford to lose," he said as he reminisced about his meals there with Hilda Mae Snoops, his longtime companion who died in June. "Hilda Mae would always get the sour beef. I liked the vegetable plate. All the vegetables are fresh."

Order that vegetable plate and you have your choice of 35, including creamed cauliflower, German potato salad, stewed tomatoes, green beans and candied fresh yams. Haussner's is known for its hundreds of objets d'art, but the restaurant is equally well known for its hundreds of dishes, from antelope leg with a Burgundy sauce to turkey roulade to frog legs.

Every traditional Maryland favorite can be found here -- oysters baked or fried, crab cakes, shrimp stuffed with crab imperial. But many Baltimoreans, like The Sun's former restaurant critic John Dorsey, go for the German food -- the wiener schnitzel a la Holstein, perhaps, or the spaetzles.

"Whenever I went, everyone seemed to be having a good time," Dorsey said. "It felt like a restaurant of the '30s or '40s. It's so big and bright. I was always impressed that they fed so many people and did it so respectably. The food is always enjoyable."

The food tastes all the better because of the artwork. How nice to know that while you're eating your veal Normandy you might be gazing at a Rembrandt, a Durer or a Whistler. Of course, you probably wouldn't notice it among the watercolors, figurines, vases and general bric-a-brac that crowd the walls so engagingly.

Eating at Haussner's is an Event, not just a meal. No visit is complete without seeing the 850-pound ball of string -- collected from bundles of laundered napkins -- or a stop at the stag bar (women are now allowed) with its tasteful nudes.

"There's so much to see, when someone comes to Baltimore I always take them there," said former state Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski, who has eaten at Haussner's since he was a child. "If it's lost, you'll never see it replaced again."

Pub Date: 9/09/99

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