There were more servers than customers at Werner's just before noon, and it was very quiet. But it wasn't for long. A half hour later, the luncheonette was almost full of downtown workers.
When it closed in April 2011, after 61 years, it looked like the Werner's story had come to a close, and it left downtown Baltimore without a single eatery dating from before the 1960s.
The luncheonette, which was opened by Werner Kloetzli Sr. in 1950, was loved for its chrome and maple Art Deco interior. But out of its original owners' hands, Werner's faded badly in its final years.
Last December, a new owner, John Smoudianis, came in and re-opened Werner's after an extensive eight-month renovation and cleaning. The new Werner's is spic-and-span, and much of the original fixtures have been restored to fine condition.
Some of the very old-fashioned menu items that Werner's was famous for aren't around anymore. Sorry, no braunschweiger. But at lunch you can have less old-fashioned things like club sandwiches, french fries with gravy and New York egg creams.
But check out the menu's Greek corner. Downtown's been without good Greek food since Cypriana closed a few years ago. If the dolmades, gyros and souvlaki are as good as the spanakopita, Werner's could expand into dinner service and evolve into a fine little Greek restaurant. That could happen, Smoudianis has said, once his lunch business gains some traction.
The Greek menu items range from $6.25 for a gyro to $12.75 for a chicken souvlaki platter. That's a little high, but the serving of spanakopita ($6.25) was plenty big to last two meals. It was very big and extremely light, almost fluffy, with phyllo that a fork cut through easily. It was just the way I like it, with a minimum of onion and feta and a maximum of tender chopped spinach.
I also loved a side of crispy hot french fries in dark brown gravy ($3.45). A companion's turkey club sandwich was well constructed, but Werner's should use white bread instead of "artisan bread."
Werner's is open for breakfast, too, when it serves omelets, pancakes and corned beef hash. You could do what folks used to do. Come in before work, join your fellow citizens at the counter — part of which has been removed — and start your morning with reading the daily news over a hot breakfast.
Where: 231 E. Redwood St.
Hours: Open weekdays for breakfast and lunch, 7 a.m.-3 p.m.
Lunch entrees: $6.25-$12.75