Table Talk: Donna's, Werner's and the Chesapeake could make 2012 the year of the comeback

We know a lot about some of the big 2012 projects and almost nothing about others. But it's looking like 2012 could be the year of the comeback.

After a long absence, the founder of the Baltimore's first brew pub is returning to the restaurant business, and by the time summer gets here, diners could be back at a new Donna's in Mount Vernon and a revived Werner's downtown.

Until the last contractor leaves and the all of the inspectors have come through, restaurants tend to be reticent about specifics like opening dates. You can't blame them.

Here are the projects, both officially announced and not, that will be arriving on the Baltimore dining scene this year.

Early on, we can expect Patrick Dahlgren to open the Heavy Seas Ale House in Little Italy's Tack Factory — formerly home to Lemongrass. Dahlgren is the stepson of Clipper City Brewing Co. founder Hugh Sisson, who turned his Federal Hill restaurant Sisson's into Baltimore's first brew pub back in 1989. Heavy Seas Ale House marks the Sisson family's return to the restaurant business after a 10-year absence.

Before winter ends, the Mina Group will be opening its third restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore. Joining Wit & Wisdom and Lamill Coffee will be Pabu, a collaboration between Michael Mina and the Sonoma County chef and restaurateur Ken Tominaga. Pabu is billed as "a modern take on traditional Izakaya-style small plates," featuring items from the robota grill, as well as sushi and sashimi.

Also due in the first quarter of 2012 are Brio Tuscan Grille, which will take over the Inner Harbor space where Legal Seafood used to be; a revived Werner's, the venerable Redwood Street lunchroom that closed last April; and Townhouse Kitchen & Bar, an upscale casual joint headed for the Eden Building in Fells Point.

Things will really start to perk up in April.

If the stars align, restaurant partners Donna Crivello and Alan Hirsch could be back in a restored Park Plaza before the end of spring. Donna's, which was devastated in a December 2010 fire, is expected to return with a new format, and maybe even a new name.

Over in Frederick, Bryan Voltaggio is hoping to have the East Street Diner, the first of three possible 2012 projects, open in April. Anticipated later this year from Voltaggio are Range in Chevy Chase and the delayed North Market Kitchen in Frederick.

Also scheduled for this spring is Fleet Street Kitchen, the follow-up restaurant to Ten Ten from the suddenly hot Bagby Group. And the new restaurant that Foreman-Wolf, the team behind Charleston, Cinghiale and Petit Louis, is readying for the Roland Park Shopping Center.

The biggest opening this summer looks to be the Maryland Live slots casino near Arundel Mills. Bobby Flay is still attached to the project, as are the Cheesecake Factory and a high-end steak house.

Other summer projects include the opening of Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. in the anchor space of the Harborplace's Light Street Pavilion. About the same time, the original tenant of that space, Phillips Seafood, will be opening the Inner Harbor's first outdoor crab deck on a floating barge outside their new Power Plant home.

Finally, the cliffhanger of 2012 will be unfolding in Charles North, where developers are renovating the historic Chesapeake restaurant. The project's first floor is due to be unveiled in May.


On vacation

Julie Rothman and Michael Dresser are on vacation. Recipe Finder and Wine Find will return next week.

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