Take a deserted corner saloon in Canton, surround it with YUPPIES and tourists, lovingly restore it and you have Weber's on Boston, one of the newest and most dramatic restaurants in one of the hottest neighborhoods in Baltimore.
Stand in the doorway and look to the left. Ritzy condos and marinas a block away crowd the water's edge. Look to the right on a hot summer's night and the people who lived in Canton before Canton was chic are sitting outside their Formstone fronts, chatting with the neighbors, doing what generations of Baltimoreans have always done.
Open only since early June, Weber's seems already to be a popular place to eat and drink. Indeed, it is inviting.
The barroom is dominated by the tin ceiling and a meticulously restored back bar, left over from Weber's Bar and Tavern, the corner saloon that locked its door four decades ago.
The dining room, with muted print wallpaper and oversized lighting fixtures, bades casual diners to sit and relax as we did on a recent Sunday.
Weber's is the kind of place that gives Baltimore -- and many other cities in transition -- a charm that looks backward and forward at the same time. It pays homage to traditional design but relies on a clientele that didn't exist 20 years ago.
Old and new, all at once.
So, too, with the menu. Crab cakes and grilled mahi-mahi. T-bone steaks and Rancheros Frittata. Half-pound hamburgers and grilled fresh vegetables.
The menu also offers a generous blend of light fare, with two pages of appetizers, salads and sandwiches, and full meals. Around us, some were dining on chicken salad sandwiches and others on Delmonico steaks -- at the same table.
We thought we would begin with Fresh Spinach Dip and crackers ($4.95), but this actually arrived after our salads. So, we began instead with a Caesar Salad ($4.50) for me and a Mexican Salad ($6.25) for my husband.
The Caesar was delicious, large and rich with cheese on very fresh Romaine. The Mexican Salad was closely akin to taco salads, elsewhere, with chili served in a large flour tortilla, surrounded by salsa, cheese, lettuce and other condiments. The chili was made with black beans, which gave it a dark color and a deep flavor; it was laced with cumin and curry; a heavy hand applied the chili pepper.
Now the spinach dip arrives, served not only with crackers but also with dark bread ends and celery and carrot strips. Initially too hot to eat, the thick dip showed more flavor as it cooled, though it remained fairly bland. The vegetables were a mistake; they wilted under the dip's heat and weight.
My husband continued his Mexican theme, ordering Rancheros Frittata ($6.95) as his main course. This was a fetching dish with flavors to match. Slices of grilled flank steak sat atop an omelet base, and a brilliant red salsa crowned the dish that had finely cut vegetables tucked into it too. The perfectly cooked steak was delicious on its own; mixed with the eggs and tangy sauce, it was even better.
I found the Fresh Grilled Vegetables ($7.95) excellent. Large pieces of onions, zucchini, mushrooms, snow peas and squash mixed with fettucini in a light sauce of tomato, basil and olive oil. It was a beautiful entree for a beastly night.
Both of our entrees were quite large. Half of the veggies in fettucine went home with us, as did a portion of the frittata and Mexican salad.
For dessert, we shared a dish of delicious fresh strawberries ($3) that had been slightly sweetened and topped with whipping cream. We took home a slice of Chocolate Cheese Cake ($3) for another day. We were not disappointed; the mixture of chocolate and cream cheese was a success with a rich flavor that lingered.
Our bill, with four cocktails and two coffees, was a reasonable $49.72.
We were a bit put off by the pace at which we were served. It was extremely uneven. We waited almost half an hour for any food, except bread, and then had three courses crowding the table at once. We noticed the same thing happening at a neighboring table.
The problem seemed to be in the kitchen, not with the friendly, knowledgeable staff that worked hard to please its customers and leave them favorably impressed.
And we were, as we sat awhile in the bar to watch the passing
parade that is Canton, old and new.
Weber's on Boston
S. Montford Ave., Canton
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday; 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday (brunch 10:30 a.m.-2:20 p.m.)
Credit cards: Major credit cards accepted.
Handicapped access: Accessible.
Smoking: Separate areas designated.