If the hip furnishings store Pottery Barn were a restaurant, it probably would look something like Sean Donlon Irish Pub and Restaurant in Annapolis.
With Sean Donlon's chic yet functional black chairs and its new but fashionably worn-looking Irish bar mirror, the cozy place on West Street feels like a showroom for the store but better. It has beer and food.
Now, if only the food were as consistently pleasing as the decor at the restaurant, which opened in December.
On a recent weekday, I showed up at Sean Donlon with two companions just before noon. We began by sharing the Ring of Kerry seafood chowder with fresh thyme ($4.95) and the gazpacho ($3.75), a tomato-based soup served cold.
The seafood chowder was an excellent, hearty concoction that featured huge chunks of crab. But my lunch companions barely touched the gazpacho because they felt it was too tart. One companion ordered the spinach salad with toasted walnuts, strawberries and blue cheese ($5.50) and wiped her plate clean. The salad had the right amount of vinaigrette, cheese and walnuts. And the large, fresh strawberries were a delicious complement.
One companion had the poached salmon special of the day ($10.95) and proclaimed it made up for her gazpacho disappointment. Slathered in a rich dill sauce, the salmon was moist and tender, and came with a large salad and potato pancakes. The pancakes were slightly greasy, but that made them taste even better.
The other companion ordered the fresh Dublin Bay shrimp salad sandwich ($8.25), which was zesty but a little watery and made the bun a little soggy.
As for my pick, from previous trips to Sean Donlon, I knew the open-face meatloaf sandwich with fried Vidalia onions was a sure bet. The sandwich features a huge slab of well-seasoned meatloaf served with a mound of sweet onions on top. And the shoestring fries that come with it are heavenly.
I've also liked the traditional fish and chips, but I've learned to avoid the corned beef sandwich.
On this trip, I chose the sliced steak with sauteed onions sandwich ($8.95) and was not disappointed. The steak could have been a little less tough, but the packed sandwich was a good pick.
We ended by splitting the warm apple crisp ($4.75) and the Baileys Irish coffee cheesecake ($4.75). The cheesecake was tasty but a little dry, but the apple crisp was wonderful.
Sean Donlon Irish Pub and Restaurant
Where: 37 West St., Annapolis; 410-263-1993
Hours: 11: 30 a.m. to 2 a.m. weekdays; 12 p.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday
Prices: Appetizers, $3.75-$8.50; entrees, $7.50-$18.95
Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express
Rating: ** 1/2 Ratings: * culinary wasteland **** culinary heaven