Landmark tavern in Annapolis is now the Sly Fox Pub

Tea room, patio add new touches to historic venue

Eats: dining reviews, Hot Stuff

April 22, 2004|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

In 1747, a man named William Reynolds opened a tavern in Annapolis. After 257 years, the Sly Fox Pub is operating from the same building. Back in 1747, the rest of the building held a hat shop and an inn. Today, the building houses a tea room and an inn.

The pub, divided into a bar area and a dining room, is on the lowest level, and it has a cozy feel, thanks to its low, pine-beamed ceilings. At our wood table, next to the large open fireplace, with candle-shaped lights flickering on the wooden shelves, it was easy to imagine we were in an earlier era.

The space is both small and popular. Chris Fox, who runs Sly Fox with his brother Andrew, told me the dining room can seat about 70, but I'm guessing only if they are very, very good friends. In the summer, a patio on the Franklin Street side adds an additional 120 seats. The former Reynolds Tavern fronts Church Circle.

Recently, the pub underwent a serious menu upgrade, thanks to Andrew and Jill Petit, who have owned the building since 2002 and run the tea room.

In January, the Petits took over the pub's kitchen. They added a dinner menu to the tea room and began offering the same menu at the pub. They also upgraded the regular pub fare. The pub still serves wings, burgers and cottage pie every night, but it now has a fancier menu of steaks, lamb and duck from Wednesday through Saturday.

It's a question of which atmosphere you prefer. In the pub, you'll get live music most nights, plus the option of eating from the pub menu. In the tea room, you'll get antique knickknacks and windows looking out on the cobblestoned Annapolis street.

The tea room menu introduced by the Petits features unfussy Maryland comfort food, with a strong English accent, a nice match for the historic building.

During a recent meal at the pub, we choose some items from the pub menu and some from the main menu. Both were good, but the tea room menu prices gave me some sticker shock. Entrees ranged from $17 for a stuffed portobello mushroom to $29 for an 8-ounce filet with bacon and gorgonzola cheese. Most dishes on the pub menu, by contrast, were less than $10. And I couldn't figure out why a 6-ounce crab cake was $14 on the pub menu, but $24 on the tea room menu.

Though the tea room food was fancier, sometimes the pub fare was better. For example, we got two appetizers, a crab dip from the pub side of the menu and a "smoked salmon purse" from the tea room side.

The $8 crab dip was a rich cream-cheesy goo, heavy with crab and served warm in a generous crock, with cheese melted on top and slices of French bread served alongside. The purses, which cost $1 more, were phyllo pouches surrounding a savory filling of salmon and goat cheese. But the phyllo was greasy, the salmon was very salty and the size of two purses was rather small.

The pub menu has several English dishes, including bangers and mash, an other-side-of-the-pond version of sausages and potatoes. The sausages came with a terrific savory brown onion gravy, but they were too fatty for my taste. I preferred the extremely garlicky, lumpy potatoes. All entrees were served with a choice of asparagus or string beans, both simply prepared and cooked to crisp tenderness.

The lump crab cake, off the tea room menu, was straightforward and fairly mild and featured some of the largest lumps of crabs I've ever encountered. A potato gratin was just right, with crispy potato slices on the outside and meltingly soft ones within.

From the tea room menu, we sampled the Thai salmon, a generous slab of fish coated with a sweet and spicy sauce. It was a fairly simple dish, so $19 seemed high.

The two desserts on the menu oozed old-fashioned charm - an apple brown betty and a chocolate-cherry bread pudding. Both were served warm, with squiggles of whipped cream alongside. The apple dish, with raisins and a sweet cakelike exterior, was fine, though the apples were tarter than I would have preferred. But the bread pudding was outstanding, rich and complex, with a deep chocolate flavor and a wonderfully moist texture. The cherries gave it that little extra something.

The historic setting alone makes a trip to the Sly Fox Pub worthwhile. The new, upgraded menu is icing on the cake.

Sly Fox Pub

Where: 7 Church Circle, Annapolis

Call: 443-482-9000

Open: Dinner daily for pub menu; main dinner menu Wednesday through Saturday

Credit cards: All major

Prices: Appetizers $6-$10; entrees $7-$25

Food: ***

Service: ***

Atmosphere: *** 1/2

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