Henninger's Tavern is the neighborhood restaurant you wouldn't mind having in your neighborhood. It's casual, intimate and loaded with charm; the stylish food is interesting and often quite good. The main drawback is that entrees average around $15 -- a bit more than you might expect to pay at a neighborhood tavern.
Your best bet is not to go on the weekend: The dining room is tiny and no reservations are taken. Fewer than a dozen tables are snuggled together with a fine antique china cupboard; old-fashioned photographs crowd the walls. The lights are low and the jazz is loud. You can eat at one of the tables in the bar, but it doesn't have quite as much atmosphere.
If your idea of tavern food is burgers and fries, think again. The menu changes weekly, but it usually runs to the likes of grilled mahi mahi with salsa or medallions of veal and artichoke hearts in bearnaise.
Henninger's signature dish is an appetizer, plump fried oysters on a bed of spinach. They were wonderful, but their Pernod-laced cream sauce was much too sweet. (To be fair, my three guests loved it.) I preferred fat little mussels in white wine and garlic butter, simple but delicious.
A seafood bisque was too salty. A better choice was spicy-sweet barbecued shrimp wrapped in bacon over a bed of cucumber salad.
Some of Henninger's dishes are overproduced; at least they're too much for me. A lovely fresh coho salmon was stuffed with shrimp and leeks, and had a very rich sauce flavored aggressively with lemon and dill. The salmon got a bit lost in the shuffle.
Sometimes such an elaborate production works, as did a chicken breast stuffed with spinach, shrimp and cheese in a delicate cilantro-scented pink cream. (The color was from roasted red pepper.)
Still, I would stick to simpler fare, such as the lamb chops in a dark, minty sauce or the blackened red snapper with pineapple salsa. With dinners came mixed steamed vegetables but, oddly enough, no carbohydrates. (Ah well, the rolls are good.) Salads and such are extra.
Henninger's desserts are excellent -- a tart key lime pie, a decadent chocolate oblivion that was pure sin. All, that is, except a poached pear that was too crunchy to cut with a fork. It kept skidding off my guest's plate.
Where: 1812 Bank St.
Hours: Tuesday to Thursday, 5 p.m.-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m.-11 p.m.
Credit cards accepted: AE, MC, V
Features: New American cuisine
Non-smoking section? Yes
Call: (410) 342-2172
Prices: Appetizers: $3.75-$8.75, entrees: $13.50-$17.95