The view from Waterstone Bar and Grille (311 W. Madison St.,  225-7475, waterstonebarandgrille.com) is not great. The restaurant sits on the corner of Madison Street and Linden Avenue, across from the rear end of Maryland General Hospital, with prominent Praxair gas towers in the vista.
Also, the location may not be considered ideal for a dining destination. Close to Mount Vernon, but on the Seton Hill side of the Light Rail tracks, the restaurant is surrounded by parking lots, on a block without any other businesses.
But three years after the original owner of lesbian bar Coconuts, which previously occupied the spot, came in and did a total renovation, Waterstone perseveres in Baltimore's notoriously tough dining market and even expanded recently, adding lunch service and a takeout counter. Despite its environment, Waterstone survives with welcoming decor, ultra-friendly service, and a wide array of deeply satisfying Mediterranean dishes. We love Seton Hill ("Best Neighborhood" 2013) and we're hoping Waterstone becomes a cornerstone of a commercial boom for the burg, which already boasts gorgeous architecture and the lush, expansive St. Mary's Park.
From the moment you walk into Waterstone, you sense the place's desire to please. The dining room and bar are filled with heavy, dark drapes, leather chairs, and exposed brick. Over several visits, owner Lisa Markiewicz is a constant presence, welcoming diners, offering details on the offerings, frequently checking in, and asking for feedback in a way that suggests she actually wants to know what you think.
Presumably in an effort to please various diners, the place offers a wide array of cuisine, from entrees like the marinated half-pound of off-the-rack New Zealand lamb chops ($19) to burgers and sandwiches, and a large selection of sizes and prices. The giant $5 burger, available every day for lunch, is a steal. The happy-hour specials, including $3 drafts and $5 tapas, are available all day at the bar and on the outdoor patio-which is way more charming than any place adjacent to an emergency-room entrance has a right to be. There are 39 offerings on the tapas menus (not counting happy hour "tappatizers," which are generally a bit bigger), about half of them vegetarian, and 42 sandwiches, subs, and wraps on the carryout grill menu.
And the offerings are distinct, like the Rhodes village chicken from the tapas menu, with grilled chicken, Greek orzo, feta, and basil, or the lamb sliders from the sandwiches menu, topped with feta, marinated red peppers, and tzatziki sauce.
Often, when a restaurant does many things, it does few of them well. This is not the case with Waterstone. While there were missteps, they were greatly outweighed by successful dishes. And like a good Greek home kitchen, everything-even the small plates-is huge. The feta chicken pesto pasta entree ($15) was a delicious, savory mound, filled with nicely seasoned tender chicken, good enough for two diners. The Seton Hill Caeser ($10) was also ample, but the chicken was chewier and too plain. The Mediterranean grilled salmon ($16) was a lovely, well-seasoned, and well-cooked half-pound fillet topped with sun-dried tomato and caper salsa and served over a pile of orzo with grilled squash and zucchini.
Perhaps these dishes seemed especially large since they came after the unusually large, belly-filling tapas. The saganaki ($5), a generous brick of baked Grecian feta in a pool of olive oil, was hard to turn away from. The salad sampler, pikili ($10), came with three deep ramekins, one each of tzatziki (another Waterstone standout), the addictive, salty taramasalata (fish roe), and roasted-red pepper hummus, which was disappointingly thin and bland. While the saganaki was served with a generous helping of nicely toasted pita points, the pikili was served with untoasted ones, which didn't serve their purpose nearly as well.
While dinner in the well-appointed dining room is a lovely experience, the addition of a lunch counter was perfect for this neighborhood, which is not nearly as blessed with good lunch options as central Mount Vernon. For the budget-conscious, it's hard to consider anything but that giant $5 burger, but the $7 Madison steak sub, with grilled ribeye, mozzarella, grilled peppers, and caramelized onions, is a good alternative. Hand-cut, well-seasoned fries are worth the extra $2. If you're looking for healthier options, the turkey powerhouse with avocado, tomato, arugula, Swiss, cucumber, and honey mustard is a good place to start.
Waterstone might not jump to mind as quickly as spots on Charles Street or in Harbor East when you think of Baltimore dining hotspots, but we're betting that it ends up being something even more valuable: a neighborhood jewel.
Waterstone Bar & Grille is open Tuesday through Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.