Haussner's is always special.
This venerable Baltimore restaurant is special for its longevity, its legendary art collection, its wide-ranging menu, its slightly crusty waitresses, its picture-perfect bakery case, its brimming baskets of homemade breads on every table and for its ability to bring patrons -- locals and out-of-towners -- back and back and back.
Haussner's is virtually unforgettable. Tourists, I would wager, remember it long after they've left the Inner Harbor. And for area residents, it remains essential Baltimore: comfortable, consistent, friendly -- a nice restaurant, but certainly not pretentious or intimate.
The food at Haussner's is not always special. It is, in my experience, always good but rarely great.
That was the case on a recent weeknight when three of us dined there.
We began with Oysters on the Half Shell ($8.95), Cream of Potato Soup ($1.75 a cup) and Maryland Crab Soup ($2.25 a cup) and, of course, the rolls -- 17 in all including great onion rounds, rye bread sticks and chocolate chip muffins sweet enough for dessert.
The seven raw oysters represented one of Haussner's great moments, my co-diners said. The oysters were large and flavorful, served with cocktail sauce and a tangy horseradish. A treat.
The potato soup was thick and good. The crab soup, pleasantly spicy, brimmed with vegetables, but was short on crab -- meat or flavor. It could easily have been mistaken for a thick, good vegetable soup.
Choosing entrees at Haussner's is always a challenge. The almost formidable menu seems to offer something for every taste: moose saddle ($20.75), lasagna primavera ($9.30), sauerbraten ($10.35), smoked finnan haddie ($16.60), fried shrimp ($14.50), scallops with shiitake mushrooms ($14.10), vegetable platter, your choice of five from the list of 35 ($7.20).
We settled on broiled whole flounder ($14.50), crab imperial ($15.50)and paprika schnitzel served with spaetzle.($13.50). All entrees come with one or two vegetables.
The flounder was large and golden. Its flavor was true; there seemed to be little seasoning or saucing, but I like that. It was, however, slightly dry, as if it had been left under the broiler a tad too long.
The accompanying baked potato was good and the fried eggplant -- one of Haussner's specialties, I think -- excellent. It was crispy on the outside and moist enough within to highlight the unique taste of the vegetable.
The crab imperial, a huge serving, was delicious -- creamy and rich with a well-seasoned sauce permeating the mixture. The imperial seems to be one of the more complex dishes at Haussner's -- lots of ingredients combine into a great, traditional taste.
The paprika snitzel, a veal cutlet with Hungarian paprika sauce, was disappointing. The veal, by itself,had no flavor; the sauce picked it up, however. The accompanying spaetzle, small flour and egg dumplings associated with German or Hungarian cooking, were tender and delicious.
Dessert presented another challenge. Haussner's desserts, especially the strawberry pie, are well-known and well-displayed in the bakery case you must pass on the way in. The mental picture of all that whipped cream, chocolate and huge strawberries usually lingers through dinner to tempt you afterward.
Haussner's desserts always look terrific. Their taste doesn't, however, always live up to their appearance. We chose a chocolate eclair with whipped cream ($2.85), strawberry shortcake ($3.40) and butter pecan ice cream ($1.80).
The eclair tasted every bit as good as it looked, and it looked just great -- mounds of creamy filling over pastry, topped with a very good chocolate sauce and gobs of real whipped cream. Truly decadent.
The shortcake wasn't as good.Not what I consider traditional shortcake, the dessert was more like two layers of yellow cake with a thick layer of whipped cream between and big strawberries on top. The berries were sweet and the cake moist, but the total effect was not sensational.
Our dinner had started slowly -- it took our waitress about 10 minutes to arrive at our table. She seemed a little harried from time to time, though she was friendly, even returning to our table to thank us for her tip. She said the substantial crowd was not unusual for a weeknight.
The tables at Haussner's are too close for my comfort. You just can't help overhearing other diners. I think this detracts from the otherwise gracious atmosphere.
Our bill, for dinner for three plus three cocktails, three coffees and a bottle of German reisling ($17.50), was $100.28. We had dined nicely, were leaving with several containers of leftovers and the renewed impression that Haussner's is a special Baltimore restaurant.
*** Haussner's Restaurant 3244 Eastern Ave. 327-8365 Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday.
Reservations: Accepted for lunch but not necessary; no reservations accepted for dinner.
Credit cards: Major credit cards accepted.
Handicapped access: Limited access.
Smoking: Separate areas designated.