Table Talk: Werner's closing an end of an era

Closure leaves downtown area empty of historic restaurants — and all they represent

  • Werner's, a restaurant at 231 E. Redwood St., closes Friday after being in business for more than 60 years. Waitress Sheila Morris has worked there seven years.
Werner's, a restaurant at 231 E. Redwood St., closes Friday… (Algerina Perna, Baltimore…)
April 19, 2011|By Richard Gorelick, The Baltimore Sun

In my article last week about the closing of Werner's on Redwood Street, I made the claim that its closing and that of Burke's only a few months earlier have left downtown Baltimore without a single restaurant dating from before the Charles Center revitalization, the first wave of what would become known as the Baltimore Renaissance.

I qualified that claim by saying that no place was still around "with the pedigree of Werner's."

But I've been wondering: Is there any place at all? Is there even a single lunch counter or sub shop that's been open downtown since before 1962?

It's easier to think of the places that have closed: Burke's, Werner's, Martick's, Marconi's, the House of Welsh.

Of course, historic restaurants still survive in other city neighborhoods and in the counties. Suggest one, though, and you might get an argument. "This place has been renovated beyond recognition," or "That place closed and reopened or moved locations entirely."

If you squinted, Burke's and Werner's looked when they closed essentially the way they did when they opened. The truth is that both of them had faded in their final years, through no fault of the men and women who worked in the kitchens and waited on customers. Werner's was no longer in the hands of the family that opened it; Burke's was, but the family thought it was time to move on. Sometimes a restaurant closes just because it's time to close.

Still, I regret these two closings, especially considering that I hadn't patronized either of them for years. But I did genuinely used to adore the open-faced turkey sandwich at Burke's (and the onion rings), and I loved just dropping in on Werner's back in the early 1980s when I worked in that neighborhood, and years later when my number came up for jury duty.

Part of my affection for Burke's and Werner's has to do with architecture, my love of this city and of cities in general. The 200 block of E. Redwood St., where Werner's opened in 1950, looks like no other block in Baltimore to me. It's a short and shady block, and it's easy to see why movie location scouts were attracted to it. It looks like the kind of city block where important people do important things.

The building at Lombard and Light streets, where a Royal Farms store will move into the old Burke's space, is the kind of structure that works its way into people's hearts more than into the architectural record. It makes me think of a businessman who's always ready with a joke.

Buildings and people and food. They all run together in the mind. What restaurant of today is making these sorts of impressions?

Souper Freak Baltimore's newest food truck, christened the Souper Freak, has been on the road for just about a month. The specialty is — you guessed it — soup.

The van, done up in Orioles orange and black, is scheduled to be parked on Wednesdays near the corner of Calvert and Monument streets. Souper Freak's operator is Irene Smith, who is married to Scott Smith, the chef-owner of Big Bad Wolf Barbecue on Harford Road.

The changing weekly menu features four soups. A recent lineup was Moroccan spiced chickpea, cream of asparagus, miso with shrimp and tofu, and Italian Wedding soup. Also on the menu, so far, are baba ghanoush, a noodle salad and three sandwiches: turkey, grilled cheese and powerhouse.

With more food trucks on Baltimore streets, Smith is aware of territorial rights and goes out of her way not to encroach on other trucks' turf. The Souper Freak's weekly schedule is posted on the truck's website (souperfreaks.com). But generally, Smith parks near the University of Maryland Medical Center on Mondays. She tries for the corner of Baltimore and Greene streets but sometimes gets squeezed out. On Tuesdays, the truck parks at the corner of Monument and Washington streets near Johns Hopkins Hospital; on Wednesdays, on Calvert in Mount Vernon; and on Fridays at 33rd and Charles streets, across from the Hopkins Homewood campus. Thursdays have been an off day, but Smith is considering adding another day for Hopkins Hospital, where the truck, she said, has caught on with a grateful community that has a limited number of healthful dining options.

Smith said when warm weather comes she'll be able to add chilled soups like gazpacho to her offerings. No rush, though. "Cold, rainy weather is supposed to be bad business for food trucks," Smith said, "but it's great for a soup truck."

richard.gorelick@baltsun.com


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