- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Reynolds Tavern gets a lot of attention for its lunch and afternoon tea offerings but dinner at Annapolis’ oldest tavern is a well-kept secret.

Jill and Andrew Petit purchased the Church Circle tavern in 2002 and are keeping its appearance appropriate for a building more than 250 years old.

The tavern consists of four floors. The dark and dank Sly Fox Pub in the cellar shows off the stone foundations of the building. Two first-floor rooms full of Colonial charm are used for lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. The second floor has guest rooms and a third floor contains a private meeting room for 25 people.

The building is one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in town. It is convenient to the historic district, downtown shops, restaurants and the U.S. Naval Academy.

It all started with William Reynolds, a hatter and dry goods salesman, who constructed the tavern in 1747. Mr. Reynolds conducted his hat business, rented rooms and operated a tavern which served food and liquor to residents and visitors of Annapolis.

After his death in 1777, the building continued as a tavern until 1811, when the building and its adjoining land were sold to Farmers National Bank (now BB&T;). In 1935, the building was converted into a public library. By 1974, the library system had outgrown the building and its title was transferred to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which in turn leased it to the Historic Annapolis Foundation.

In 1984, the tavern was leased to Historic Inns of Annapolis run by local entrepreneur, Paul Pearson, who restored the tavern.

The cost of restoration put enormous burdens on the operation of the tavern and once again in 1992, Farmers National Bank took control of the tavern. Then in 2002, the Petits entered the scene and bought the property. They were not alone though — apparently there is an active resident ghost.

Executive Chef Robert Blake’s dinner menu consists of traditional English and Maryland fare.

A cream of crab soup ($7) sets the tone that tradition doesn’t need to be dull. A perfect example of traditional cream of crab, the soup has a lovely silky texture. There is just enough spice to give the soup character, but not overwhelm the sweet crabmeat found within.

The chardonnay poached pear salad is a whole pear sweetened in wine and served over greens tossed in a creamy Greek dressing with crumbled soft goat cheese and toasted pecans.

Mussels du jour ($9) are 11/2 pounds of Prince Edward Island mussels prepared differently each day. Ours were prepared with a traditional white wine and butter sauce, and it really showcased the mussels. But the key to knowing when mussels are really worth eating is when every bit of broth is sopped up with the bread.

The main plates on the menu usually list six meat and six seafood offerings.

The tornados Chesapeake ($29) are grilled tenderloin medallions topped with crabmeat and imperial sauce. The tenderloin was cooked perfectly medium rare, and was tender and juicy. The portion of crabmeat served with the dish was quite generous, and was accented nicely by the not-too-rich sauce.

Gorgonzola filet is an 8-ounce filet wrapped in bacon, grilled to medium rare and topped with Gorgonzola cheese and a merlot reduction sauce.

Chilean sea bass ($24) is a pan-seared boneless filet brushed with olive oil and finished with a lemon-caper-mushroom sauce. The sea bass was firm and flaky, with a just slightly crispy exterior. The chef willingly accommodated a request to prepare it without the sauce.

Skate-fish wing with brown butter and capers ($21) is sauteed with beurre noir, capers and parsley. This was my first sampling of skate (other than catching the dreaded creature while fishing for flounder in Ocean City). The generous portion was tender and flaky and quite a pleasant surprise. I was expecting it to be similar to calamari — chewy and not much flavor. But it is the opposite: melt-in-your-mouth tender.

Skate continues to gain popularity in New York and Washington, but apparently it is not catching on in Annapolis. “It may be a little too sophisticated for the crab cake and steak crowd,” joked innkeeper Wes Burge. However, the dish will remain on the menu because it is an English favorite of the chef and the owners.

Other traditional English offerings include bangers and mash, English pork sausages served with a rich gravy and mashed potatoes; shepherd’s pie, lamb baked with peas and carrots and rich gravy and topped with mashed potatoes; and fish and chips, a large portion of cod fried in a beer batter and served with fries.

Entrees are served with choice of mashed potatoes, layered potatoes or angel-hair pasta and choice of asparagus, garlic spinach or French beans. Layered potatoes are scalloped potatoes resting on top of mashed potatoes, and are an interesting combination of the two favorites. Both asparagus and French beans were perfectly cooked and only lightly seasoned to let the fresh vegetable flavor come through. The spinach was the only disappointment as it contained way too much sea salt.

Desserts are all made in-house, and on this evening included strawberry shortcake, a berry tart, deep dish Key lime pie, and a chocolate lover’s dream cake.

There are plenty of fine wines and brews to choose from as well.

RESTAURANT: Reynolds Tavern, 7 Church Circle, Annapolis; 410/295-9555

HOURS: Lunch and afternoon tea 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; dinner 5:30 to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday

PRICES: Soups and salads, $5 to $14; dinner appetizers, $9 to $14; dinner entrees, $14 to $29; daily early-bird special, three courses for $21 from 4:30 to 6 p.m.

RESERVATIONS: Recommended but not required

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards

PARKING: Street parking

ACCESS: Limited wheelchair access


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