Whetstone Offers Tasty Basics

Restaurant Review

Hull Street Blues Owners Go Casual At New Restaurant

August 13, 2009|By Richard Gorelick | Richard Gorelick,Special to The Baltimore Sun

Hull Street Blues turns 25 this year, and for a generation of Baltimoreans, Kathryn and Daniel Macatee's cozy rowhouse restaurant was the first place they had ever sat down for dinner in Locust Point. Always, its admirers are quick to credit the Macatees with keeping Hull Street Blues both ship-shape and completely unpretentious, even as the menu has expanded and the neighborhood around it has grown.

Now, the Macatees have opened a casual eating spot just across the street and down the block, naming it the Whetstone Grill after the neighborhood's original name, Whetstone Point, which you can see on old lithographs and engravings (and new townhouse developments).

The surprising thing about the Whetstone Grill is how modest it is. It really does seem to want to be the kind of place where neighbors or folks working at Tide Point can stop in to just get a quick breakfast sandwich or a nice salad or sandwich to carry out for lunch. For now, it closes early each night, at 7 p.m.

The nicely renovated space isn't a bad place to spend some time in, either. It's clean and bright, and the handsome wood furnishings help make it relaxing. Still, it doesn't quite feel like a cafe, or a grill - more like the kind of attractive sandwich shop you'd find in a new office building. It doesn't have much of a personality, but probably gets one when it fills with regulars.

A good thing is that customers can grab a bottle of wine and beer from the coolers and enjoy them in the dining room.

But it was the menu, come to think of it, and not so much the ambience, that made me think about office buildings and food. The lunch and early dinner menu consists pretty much of salads, wraps and panini. There is usually a soup of the day, and a daily featured item (when we visited, a quesadilla and a special wrap). True, there are always going to be things each of us wishes were offered on a restaurant's menu; it just seems like there's more missing here: no hot or cold pasta dishes, hamburgers, pizzas or hot appetizers, and not even basic cold sandwiches that use bread instead of wraps. Maybe that will change.

The listed choices for wraps and panini are decent - a chicken Caesar wrap, a roast beef panino with blue cheese, another panino with black-pepper turkey and hickory smoked bacon, and swiss cheese, but, somehow, by the time they get wrapped up or grilled, they end up not having much flavor. The main ingredients especially - the meats and cheeses - have that thin, almost watery quality of stuff that's provided by a food service. That could be the case, or Whetstone might be baking its own roast beef and turkey and grilling its own chicken right there on the premises - if so, it's a lot or work for not much payoff.

The counter service both times we visited was not only exceedingly warm and friendly but also enthusiastic about the food. That, along with our memories of good meals at Hull Street Blues, might have inflated our expectations a little. Probably so. I'm thinking, too, that the Whetstone Grill shines brightest in the morning, when neighbors come in for breakfast sandwiches, fresh fruit and homemade muffins.

What feels like a misstep to me might not be at all. The bottom line is that the Whetstone Grill was never meant to be anything but an amenity for the people of Locust Point. But I think Whetstone will have to consider offering more choices to get people from other neighborhoods to come by for a visit, the way they did 25 years ago with Hull Street Blues.

On the menu

* Chicken Caesar wrap - $6.25

* Italian cold cut wrap - $6.75

* Roast beef bleu panino - $6.50

* Turkey bacon panino - $6.50

* Southwestern panino - $6.50

* Chocolate chip cookie - $1

* McHenry Cobb salad - $6.50

The Whetstone Grill

Where: : 1211 Hull Street

Contact: : 410-727-6797

Hours: : 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday

Credit cards: : MC, VISA, AMEX

Appetizers: : $3.25-$6.75

Entrees: : $6.25-$6.75

Food: : ** ( 2 STARS)

Service: : *** ( 3 STARS)

Atmosphere: : ** 1/2 ( 2 1/2 STARS)

[Outstanding: **** Good: *** Fair or uneven: ** Poor: *]

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