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Flannery's offers warmth, good food

January 07, 2007|by SAVORY SAM

MERCERSBURG, Pa. -If the end-of-the-year holiday season is about anything, it's about spending quality time with friends and family. So it was we found ourselves in Mercersburg at Flannery's Tavern on the Square for a Saturday evening dinner in December.

Flannery's is the newest restaurant to occupy the nearly two-centuries-old stone structure in the historic heart of Mercersburg. The early-American interior is upscale but understated, and the kitchen offers dishes that nod to tradition but feature contemporary twists.

We bustled out of the chill and into Flannery's spacious, convivial tavern. Bright lights and TV screens around the room added to the air of bubbling hospitality. Exposed wood beams harkened to the building's early-American origins.

We had reservations in the dining room. Through a narrow passage, the temperature jumped significantly, the light dimmed and the sound level dropped. We found ourselves in a dining room that evoked Colonial Williamsburg - pale, cream walls with an antique-red chair rail and warm gray bead-board below. Molding around windows and doors matched the chair rail. A beautiful chandelier with glass beads and metal leaves provided low lighting. Ivy, berries and red bows decorated the mantel over the brick fireplace.

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We were led to our table and settled in. On the white tablecloth were red cloth napkins, salt and pepper in glass shakers, an upscale arrangement of silverware and a flame in a glass bowl - nice but not pretentious.

Our waitress was upbeat and informative but not overly perky. Since so many of us ordered water, she brought a pitcher.

Those of us of drinking age were surprised to find the beer list at Flannery's is not limited to corporate beers and the usual imports. Beers brands included Troegs, Blue Moon, Hoegaarden and Sierra Nevada. We ordered a Troegs Mad Elf - a sweet-ish, spicy holiday brew I wasn't crazy about - and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, which went well with the spicier main courses.

The menu is not overlong, which I interpreted to mean that the kitchen focuses on doing a few things well rather than trying to be all things to all people.

Several of our party are vegetarian. There is no vegetarian section on the menu, and meatless options are limited to side dishes, one salad and two pasta entrees. Fortunately, two of our vegetarians eat fish - they could eat the many dishes incorporating crab or other fruits of the sea.

We ordered a lump crab and artichoke fondue appetizer, a salad, an order of homemade fries and two crab soups - cream of crab and roasted pumpkin and crab. We shared everything, and it was all terrific.

The fries came with skins on and pleased everyone. The roasted pumpkin-crab soup was flavorful and inventive with more than a hint of cinnamon. Some of my party preferred this soup; some, like my dearest dining companion, preferred the cream of crab.

"I have had a lot of crab bisque, and this is one of the best. It's creamy, rich and crabby," she said.

Everyone who tried it praised the peppery, buttery, thick crab-and-artichoke fondue. It tasted OK with the startlingly red and blue tortilla chips served with it, but the fondue really delighted us when paired with the fresh, warm bread brought to the table. The only problem with the fondue - not enough of it. Way too many chips came with the serving of fondue.

The smoked salmon, brie and pecan salad - a special that evening - had plenty of salmon and cheese over a bed of romaine. The greens were not as fresh as I'd prefer but OK.

I noticed the serving of salad was not gigantic but proportioned for one person. In fact, servings throughout the meal were of reasonable size - a thoughtful touch other restaurants should consider. We finished everything.

Our main courses were similarly delicious. The strict vegetarian was happy with the portobello tower over angel hair pasta. Served with Italian vegetables and mozzarella cheese in a light marinara, the dish was spicy with a touch of sweet.

The other vegetarian entree off the menu was curried seasonal vegetables and chickpeas served over basmati rice.

My daughter praised the dish: "For me, favoring mild over spicy, it's really good. I can taste everything - coconut milk, vegetables, chickpeas, rice."

My dearest companion, who knows a good crab cake, praised the one that accompanied her Caesar salad - the thick patty was meaty, spicy but not too hot and had hardly any filler. But she felt the Caesar dressing was a bit too creamy.

My pepper-seared tuna served over basmati rice was superb. The tuna was perfect, with a peppery coating where it touched the grill. It was raw in the middle, which was fine for me - I love sushi. My companion tried some tuna, avoiding the rawest parts, and liked it with her Caesar salad. The rice was excellent, and I wished I had more.

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