Henry's Salt of the Sea

By Cathy Kiley
Photo by Ryan Hulvat

I know very few people in the Lehigh Valley who haven’t been to Henry’s Salt of the Sea.  It’s been there for decades yet one could easily miss it when traveling on Allen Street if you weren’t looking for it. The humble wooden façade boasts a modest sign and two ship’s lanterns lighting the entrance to the cavernous interior that is Henry’s.

This enormously popular West End eatery is a neighborhood gem that commands reservations even during the week. The eclectic menu is the creation of Executive Chef Brian Krans who has owned Henry’s Salt of the Sea since 2004. There is something for everyone on the extensive menu so Tom and I were anxious to give it a whirl.

We arrived before 7:00 PM on a Thursday night and the place was packed. We waited for a few moments before being seated at our booth directly across from the “kitchen” where we could watch the action of Chef Brian and his sous chef “Radar.” I use the term “kitchen” lightly as the cooking area is actually the end of the bar—the other end being expertly tended by long-time barkeep Jeff Maurer. Maurer was quick to whip up the house specialty “A Taste of Paris” Frenchtini for me which was delicious and served up with just the right amount of verbal pizzazz from the Henry’s Salt of the Sea veteran.

Melissa, our attentive server, brought breads to the table and pointed out the night’s specials that included pan seared Sea Trout, Scallop and Shrimp Curry served in puffed pastry as well as fried or sautéed Soft Shelled Crabs. We took our time studying the menu as well as the surroundings. The interior of Henry’s reminded us of the interior of an old ship—weathered boards on the walls, ceiling fans, framed sea prints and ships lanterns providing the lighting.  Booths line the walls and the rear dining area has free standing tables for perhaps 20-30 people. There are a number of appetizers on the menu including Brown Sugar Bacon Scallops, Steamed Clams or Mussels, Clams on the Half Shell or Baked Clams Casino, Escargot, German Potato Pancakes, Thai Crispy Chicken and Crab Stuffed Mushrooms to name a few in addition to a variety of soups. Tom and I decided to try two soups. I had the Seafood Bisque which was loaded with crab, shrimp and fish. I loved that the soup was not overly thickened but instead was very flavorful and packed a nice zip. Tom’s Snapper Soup was quite rich with an abundance of vegetables. A hint of bay leaf and the added sherry enhanced the lovely flavor. We felt compelled to try Chef’s German Potato Pancakes and wow!—were they ever good.  About a dozen silver dollar sized pancakes arrived hot to the table served with applesauce and sour cream. They were delicious with just the right amount of onion—they reminded me of my mother’s! All entrees come with a trip to the salad bar.  It’s small but mighty, containing all fresh and tasty ingredients.

There are at least 35 entrée selections on the menu including seafood combinations, broiled Tilapia served two ways in mustard dill sauce or blackened, baked filet of Sole or Haddock, Sole Almandine and Sautéed Lump Crabmeat with brown butter and sautéed mushrooms. There are Broiled Twin Lobster tails on their seafood specialty menu which also includes Shrimp Scampi over linguini, Lobster Francaise, Seafood Fra Diablo or Maryland Lump Crab Cakes.  Landlubbers will have no problem at Henry’s. There are five variations of Veal Scaloppini including Schnitzel, Marsala, Piccante, Parmesan as well as Veal and Crabmeat Princess served with tomato, mushrooms, asparagus and lemon butter. Steak selections include a New York Strip, Filet Mignon and Blackened Sirloin Steak Tyrolean. You will also find sautéed Calves Liver on this menu!

Choice is tough at Henry’s but I elected to try the evening’s special of Shrimp and Scallop Curry. The curry sauce was creamy, quite spicy and made even richer by being served in pastry. The taste was delicious but I have to admit I only ate a bit of this extremely rich entrée before asking to have it wrapped to bring home. Tom ordered the Lobster Francaise that was served with a beurre blanc sauce and smothered in mushrooms, capers and tomatoes. Both seafood selections were extremely fresh but Tom mentioned he may request to have the veggies served on the side next time. The lobster itself was lightly sautéed and delicious. Sides of potatoes and zucchini were served with our entrees.

We ordered coffee and watched Chef Brian and “Radar” operate in unison as a finely-tuned machine. It is beyond me how the two of them turn out over 150 dinners each night in that small but efficient space. However, everyone including Maurer and all of the servers are long-term employees who work together to see that diners at Henry’s are taken care of in a friendly, professional way.

Melissa gave us the low-down on the night’s desserts and, although I was completely full, I was “forced” to try the house-made Crème Brule. The dessert was light, tasty and reminded me more of a panna cotta. I liked the consistency very much and the dessert was not overly sweet which I appreciated.

Henry’s Salt of the Sea has sat on this location for nearly 30 years with Chef/Owner Brian Krans manning the helm since 2004. Classically trained, Brian studied at the Culinary Institute of American and La Vienne in France and went on to perfect his skills in the Cayman Islands and Costa Rica before making landfall in the Lehigh Valley. Many selections have German or Asian influence and together with the unique surroundings, serve to make for a very interesting dining experience. If you are looking for good food at a good price and some friendly conversation in a neighborhood place with outgoing, familiar folks, I  suggest that you make a dinner reservation at Henry’s and see what it is all about. You will be treated to “dinner and a show” on any given night with people who, I guarantee you, spend a great deal of time there.  Portions are  generous so go hungry and I’ll bet you will still bring home part of your dinner.  And be sure to check out their Early Evening Specials served Monday through Friday from 4:30 to 6:00 PM.  Henry’s Salt of the Sea is located at 1926 Allen Street in Allentown’s West End.  Hours of operation are 4:30 to 9:00 PM Monday through Thursday and 4:30 to 10:00 Friday and Saturday.

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