Spotlight On: Waterfront Kitchen

I promised to write about Waterfront Kitchen several weeks back while we were crossing over from Fells Point into the Harbor East area of Baltimore and have finally gotten around to it. I’m sorry this seems a bit out of order, but the restaurant recently got a new chef and I wanted to make sure he was well-entrenched and things were going smoothly before I started running my mouth about how great his food is. But first, an intro.

Waterfront Kitchen Calamari Baltimore

Waterfront Kitchen is the scene of one of my very favorite restaurant meals. While the interior of the restaurant is lovely and comfortable, with a terrific view of the iconic Domino Sugars sign across the river, that view is even better from the outside. On the occasion of this particular meal, long family-style tables were set up to take advantage of the shade on the east side of the building. A bit beyond the dining area was another row of tables, each bearing a bounty of fresh ingredients and the tools with which to prep them. As guests chopped tomatoes and husked corn on the cob, chefs cooked various proteins–fresh fish, whole chickens–on a large grill. Everyone took part in preparing the multi-course meal, which included customized flatbreads and several vegetable side dishes, as California champagne flowed freely. Very freely, as the occasion was a dinner celebrating the release of a new style of sparkling wine. Hubs and I sat with strangers who quickly became confidants (bubbly will do that) and left completely content. Everything was perfect, from the setting to the food to the company.

We’ve since eaten a couple of “normal” meals at Waterfront Kitchen and can testify that the restaurant does a pretty satisfying job all around. The people behind the Waterfront Kitchen are proponents of seasonal cooking and source most of their ingredients locally, some as nearby as in the next block. The BUGS (Baltimore Urban Gardening with Students) Greenhouse is on the Living Classrooms campus on Caroline Street, a stone’s throw from the restaurant. The program encourages kids from low-income neighborhoods to develop social, academic, and creative skills while learning how to grow food. They even get to make a little pocket money by selling the fruits and vegetables of their labor at an annual farmers’ market event. We’ve toured the garden and were amazed at the amount and variety of interesting produce those kids produce, much of which is put to good use at Waterfront Kitchen.

As with most restaurants, the kitchen staff goes through changes and each new chef brings his own particular culinary slant to the menu. These days, Cyrus Keefer is in charge. We’ve loved his food from his days at Birroteca, Fork & Wrench, 13.5% Wine + Food, and were excited to see him at Waterfront Kitchen. The Delaware native favors Asian ingredients but has serious French technique, which means he can add somewhat unfamiliar flavors like miso and seaweed to a dish and make them seem like they should have been there all along.

The menu at Waterfront Kitchen has always had a strong focus on Chesapeake/East Coast cuisine, and that has not changed. Among the things we tried on our most recent visit were clam chowder, crab cakes, and a lobster roll. The chowder was an elegant cousin of the familiar New England-style soup, with a bisque-like miso-enriched broth. In it were tiny clams still in their shells; chunks of sunchoke, also called Jerusalem artichoke, stood in for the customary potatoes.

Crab Cakes Waterfront Kitchen Baltimore

Keefer’s crab cakes are like no other I’ve had in the area. Chock-full of lump crab and just the right amount of seasoning, the cakes were light as a feather, moist, and magically contained no breading whatsoever. I won’t give away the man’s secrets–you have to try them for yourselves. Rather than serve them with tartar sauce (or heaven forbid–cocktail sauce), Keefer uses the bounty of the BUGS garden to create seasonal accompaniments. On the evening we enjoyed them, the cakes came with deviled asparagus, a subtle chorizo vin blanc, and an almost gazpacho-like romesco made with shishito peppers.

The lobster roll was another twist on an East Coast seafood favorite. The roll was the classic toasted split-top New England-style hot dog bun, but the generous portion of lobster meat was tossed with a green curry and avocado sauce redolent of kaffir lime and topped with delicate pea shoots. Hey, this ain’t Maine, folks, and traditions are meant to be broken, or at least modified somewhat. As long as it tastes great–and it does–it’s fine by me!

dessert Waterfront Kitchen Baltimore

On to dessert. We recommend the “Ode to Baltimore,” dreamed up by Waterfront Kitchen’s 21-year-old-but-cooks-like-she’s-been-doing-it-for-20-years pastry chef, Kelsey Willis. She tops squares of moist chocolate cake with a beer-flavored cream/custard, enrobes them in a classic chocolate ganache, and sprinkles housemade Old Bay-seasoned caramel corn on top. The white plate is swooshed with white chocolate tinted in yellow and red, making the dessert resemble an abstracted Maryland flag. A damn tasty flag.

In addition to dinner

Waterfront Kitchen is open for lunch during the week and brunch on weekends. Happy hour starts at 4 on Mondays but an hour earlier the rest of the week, which means you don’t have to wait until 5pm to enjoy a glass of wine or a $3 Natty Boh, a beer that still has the hearts of Baltimoreans even if it’s no longer brewed here. Or try one of Waterfront Kitchen’s refreshing warm-weather cocktails, like the Strawberry & Basil made with basil vodka and muddled strawberries, or the gin-based Cucumber & Lavender, which contains exactly what you’d think it contains. Order some food to go with your drink, like the grilled calamari (a Keefer specialty) with black baba ganoush and a green olive insalada. If you find those house-marinated green olives as insanely delicious as I do, you can also get them on their own with some hummus, greens, and flatbread.

Waterfront Kitchen is in a stand-alone building with a Living Classrooms banner and “Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Education Pavilion” emblazoned on the front. The restaurant entrance is on the side, near the bronze sculpture of Frederick Douglass in the adjacent Douglass-Myers Maritime Park. We think it’s well worth the walk past a rather unglamorous parking lot.

Waterfront Kitchen

1417 Thames Street
Baltimore, MD 21231
443-681-5310


Minxeats Baltimore food blogger and Co-author of the new book, Maryland’s Chesapeake: How the Bay and its Bounty Shaped a Cuisine, plus Food Lovers’ Guide to Baltimore, and Baltimore Chef’s Table.


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