The Boathouse Canton (2809 Boston St.,  773-9795, boathousecanton.com) opened its doors last spring to an enthusiastic crowd eager to check out the remodeled digs after the Bay Cafe—a classic that turned a little seedy in its later years—closed down. Throngs of drinkers and diners flooded the restaurant’s outdoor seating area, in particular, but the inside of the house often remained packed as well.
As the weather cooled, we decided to check out The BoatHouse. This expansive spot has one of the best water views in the city, and very few in Baltimore are going to turn down the opportunity to toss back crushes and slurp oysters on loungy patio chairs on hot summer afternoons. But now that the summer months are over, the question hangs: Is The BoatHouse’s food good enough to fill the sprawling space in the cold months?
If one were to judge by the filled tables during Sunday brunch, the answer is a resounding “yes.” Of course, nearly every table in the restaurant has a view of the water, and the previous dirty-dive feel has been replaced with a clean brightness magnified by soaring ceilings and enormous windows flanked by exposed brick walls. That’s obviously a selling point for bringing Mom, the in-laws, or your non-city-dwelling friends here, but it was clear that there were some serious regulars, and that The BoatHouse has clearly won over some football fans, with many of them seated at the bar.
The chicken and waffles ($12) and benedicts ($10-$15) are good enough to draw a crowd, but brunch alone can’t keep a boat—er, restaurant—afloat. Over the course of several weeknight visits, we discovered smaller crowds, but consistent food and service.
Standards such as The BoatHouse Wings ($10) with a tangy/spicy buffalo sauce and crunchy-yet-juicy chicken tenders ($9) are perfect for the after-work or football crowd, as are the mountainous nachos ($9), which are among the most generous servings in the city.
Starters such as the baked pimento cheese crock ($10), a thick, warm dip with crostini and crudite, or mini crab cakes ($13) with plenty of lump meat and a tasty dijon aioli, are ideal for bar snacks. The crispy calamari ($9.50) comes with a delectable chunky marinara that is surprisingly spicy in the way that makes you wish other joints would quit the typical bland tomato-sauce accompaniment.
Still, there were some flops. The flatbreads mainly fell, well, flat. The toppings seem to lose a lot of individual flavor as they blend together and the bread is not as crisp as we’d like, but if you’re looking for something a bit different, the prosciutto fig flatbread ($12) had a warmth and earthiness that we did enjoy.
Specialties and entrees include a number of seafood, pasta, and meats (and a few vegetarian dishes) but our favorites were the creamy lobster mac and cheese ($14) that’s kicked up with spicy Andouille sausage and freshened by peas and roasted tomatoes. The hanger steak and frites ($24) was cooked so well that it could offer a challenge to some of the city’s best steak joints. Sides such as the butternut squash risotto ($4) and pan-seared Brussels sprouts with bacon and pearl onions ($4) also shine, with the quality ingredients showcased through plain and simple proper cooking techniques.
Of course, at a waterfront place like The BoatHouse, a lot depends on the raw bar. We were huge fans of the oysters on the half shell ($1.50-$2.50 each), but there are also three oyster-shooter varieties ($3.50-4.50). Steamed shrimp ($12/$19), clams in garlic chili butter ($10), and sauteed mussels in creamy coconut lemongrass curry with jalapeños, fresh basil and marinara, or white wine and garlic, round out the menu. There is no shortage of crustaceans here.
So, is The BoatHouse the kind of waterfront joint that can survive Baltimore’s competitive restaurant scene in the cooler months? With its wide-reaching menu and an adept cooking staff, we certainly think so. But we’re not going to lie—we can’t wait to sip those bloody marys and crushes at the bar outside come May.
The Boathouse Canton is open Monday-Thursday 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m., Friday 11 a.m.–midnight, Saturday 10 a.m.–midnight, and Sunday 10 a.m.–11 p.m.