Ware House 518 could be Baltimore's next great date spot.
The Mount Vernon restaurant has much of what it takes to put it on the date-night map: mostly well-executed food, great drinks and a show-stopping space. The service is personable, if a bit slow.
Now all it needs is more of those people on dates. During our Thursday night visit, we were surprised by the lack of crowd. It deserves more patrons.
Scene & Decor Ware House 518's dramatic space, with uber-high ceilings and gorgeous architectural details, gives the restaurant a special-occasion-ready air.
The building is the former home of several popular Baltimore spots, including the glamorous Ixia, which closed in 2009, and the much-loved Louie's Bookstore Cafe, which occupied the space for 18 years, until 1999.
Compared to those two predecessors, Ware House 518 feels stripped down and clean, but still respectful of the building's structural beauty.
Drinks After settling into a table at the front, next to large windows overlooking Charles Street, we turned our attention to the drinks menu, which was short but interesting.
A round of cocktails included three sure-fire hits. The Basil French 75 ($9) was an herbaceous take on the traditional gin and champagne drink, while the Moon over Monument ($9) was a potentially dangerous and downright delicious mix of moonshine and iced tea. Our favorite, the Hula Hideaway ($9), was a citrusy combination of rum and champagne that tasted more sophisticated than its beachy name suggested.
Appetizer A pork belly appetizer ($11) was one of our favorite dishes of the evening. The pork was lovely — cider-braised then seared to develop a satisfying outer crust.
It was served over mild sweet potato mash and topped with thin, crispy onions plus apples, caramelized and cooked down to a chunky, rich sauce. The combination of flavors and textures was thoughtful and smart.
The crab and tomato bruschetta ($12) was less successful. Chunks of crab and halved grape tomatoes were scattered across thin slices of grilled bread in a presentation that seemed haphazard, especially next to the pork belly. There was nothing wrong with any of the elements but they didn't feel like a cohesive dish.
Entrees When we ordered the fish and chips ($21), we were disappointed to learn that instead of the catfish listed on the menu, it would be made with cod. Still, we liked its well-seasoned batter and thought both the fish and the fries were cooked nicely. We also loved the spicy remoulade served as an accompaniment.
A generous bowl of chicken and shrimp gumbo ($25), served over rice, was nearly a hit. The ingredients were cooked properly but overall, the dish was slightly underseasoned. Just after our meals arrived, our waiter brandished two large salt and pepper grinders and asked if we'd like either. We are hesitant to re-season our food before trying it, so we declined. We wish Ware House 518 simply had salt and pepper shakers on the table so we could have adjusted the dish on our own.
Of the entrees, our hands-down favorite was the Dr. Pepper-glazed pork chop, a hulking piece of meat served with slow-cooked greens and savory goat cheese bread pudding.
The sides were fantastic. The greens were impressively tender and the bread pudding, which intrigued us on paper, was like a creamy stuffing. We loved it.
The chop itself was a rock star. The glaze lent it a touch of sweetness and the thick chop was cooked exactly correctly, until it was juicy with a touch of pink in the center.
Desserts We finished our meal with two desserts: white chocolate, banana and blueberry bread pudding ($6) and a pretty apple tart made with delicate pastry ($6). Though neither yielded any surprises, they were sweet and satisfying.
Service Our waiter was friendly and knowledgeable; he quickly assessed the mood of our table and played along. Our only complaint was that everything took a little longer than it should have. While we didn't mind lingering, occasionally the pace felt too slow, especially in a restaurant that was nearly empty.
Chatting over coffee and dessert, we wondered why Ware House 518 wasn't busier. The space is beautiful and the food good. It's the kind of place that should flourish.