Level is now one of my all-time favorite eateries in the area, certainly one of the best I've visited in 2021. Located at 69 West Street in Annapolis, Level is sophisticated and classy, and the food is outstanding, living up to its name. The restaurant's original owners christened the restaurant “Level” because they wanted it to elevate the level of expectation for restaurant service, food quality and overall customer experience. Eric and Jennifer Sowers, who bought the restaurant in 2017, kept the name. With everything made from scratch and locally sourced, the food is fresh and fantastic.
My adult son and I arrived early on a Sunday evening when traffic was light and the restaurant wasn't overcrowded. We loved the old Annapolis building feel — the combination of wood, brick and brass. A smiling hostess led us to a cozy table by the window, looking out to West Street. The early evening colors and twinkle holiday lights on the street added a whimsical feel to the dinner. Colorful modern paintings by local artists depicting Annapolis brighten the walls throughout.
James, our waiter, was friendly, knowledgeable and helpful, arriving quickly with water and taking our drink orders.
Level is a unique dining venue focused on small plates, giving diners a chance to sample smaller servings of various food offerings. So, rather than dinner for two that may cost $60 for two dishes, you can get four or five plates of smaller portions to share at Level.
We started our meal with Maryland bay fries. I expected typical fries topped with a seafood seasoning, but no – these were fresh cut, thin, delectable fries with seasoning similar to the sometimes-overused classic Maryland spice, but with more of a tang and deeper flavor. The "ketchup" seemed to be a mix of ordinary condiment and cocktail sauce, sweeter than either, which paired wonderfully with the fries that I couldn't stop eating.
The cheese arrived next – several local, rich gourmet cheeses, a mixture of hard and soft, served on a classic wood board with thin crostini, apples, spicy mustard, delightfully tangy pickles and an apple spread. It's the type of food that will make you want to savor each bite slowly.
Next up was our tuna tartare, of which I admit I've never been a fan. The texture of this type of tuna always puts me off, but not here! The tuna was served with cucumber, spicy soy vinaigrette, wasabi tobiko and giant crispy wontons. The combination of various tastes adds to the experience. The spiciness doesn't overpower the dish but satisfied the latent spice girl in me.
My son particularly liked the Mediterranean plate with homemade hummus, artichoke, olive tapenade, and cucumber-yogurt salad, served with naan. The hummus was tasty but not spicy. Regarding the tapenade, I've found out that in this world, there are olive people and non-olive people. I am of the non-olive persuasion, and I'm sure personality traits are associated with those choices. But after tasting this dish, I crossed the line and can say that I now can accept the olive people. It was that good.
But my favorite, ta-dah – was the fig and brie flatbread. James brought out the dish – a beautiful-toasted flatbread topped with roasted sweet figs, soft brie, tender prosciutto, arugula and balsamic glaze. The delightful, sweet taste of the figs perfectly complemented the meat and cheese. The arugula provided a blast of zesty fresh flavor to the dish, and the prosciutto was savory — altogether a lovely plate.
We finished off the evening with banana bread pudding, a unique take on a classic. With a piece of brûléed banana, the "bread" was crisp on the outside, and soft, soothing, not overly sweet but rich on the inside, sitting atop a sauce similar to caramel but not as sweet.
My son wanted the chocolate chip cookies, and I was also flirting with the flourless chocolate cake made with mascarpone cheese, but we were full and decided to save those for another day.
Not everybody will be satisfied with the smaller servings, but James said most patrons are surprised that they're full after two or three. We were comfortably filled and even left with a doggie bag that the doggie didn't get.
The cost was reasonable. With five plates and three drinks, we paid $85.
Level has an upstairs area used regularly for parties, weddings and special events. The restaurant also has a full bar. This is the kind of food for a romantic date night – I can see a movie scene in my head at Level, with the cheese and glass of wine.
In the words of a well-known Austrian bodybuilder – “I'll be back.”
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