The Boathouse Canton is a real beauty.
The restaurant and bar, located in the Tindeco Wharf apartment complex, makes excellent use of its waterfront location. From what we saw, people are responding. The restaurant was busy each time we visited, on a late Saturday afternoon, an early weeknight evening and a weekday lunch.
The waterfront dining patio, just off the main dining room, looks to be a popular perch, as does the expansive bar area, which appears to be attracting a fairly broad range of age groups
But patrons are filling up the dining areas, too, which is a change from when this former power station housed Bay Cafe, a long-running Canton institution that was known for its real palm trees and beach parties.
Bay Cafe closed last year, and the space was leased out to first-time restaurant owners Maureen McEnerney and Gene Singleton, a married couple with a background in the hospitality business, mostly with the Marriott Corp. Their experience shows.
Their first good move was to invest in a serious renovation of the property. The basic layout has remained the same, including the multilevel dining platforms. But an illusion of major structural changes was created by a very thoughtful and thorough cosmetic renovation, by the Baltimore-based SM+P Architects, the firm responsible for such restaurant projects as Woodberry Kitchen, the Food Market and the restoration of Mount Washington Tavern.
The goal of the renovation was simply to brighten everything up. Where Bay Cafe was dark, the Boathouse is bright and airy. Where there once were expanses of dark green and dark wood, there are now whites and blues. A lime wash was applied to the brick walls, which had been left untreated in the Bay Cafe days.
The result is as refreshing as a bay breeze; it's a pleasure to be here.
Boathouse Canton appears to be an instant hit. I don't think anyone is going there for the food, which is occasionally satisfying but more often mediocre and just generally inoffensive, although maybe a bit expensive for what it is.
The best thing we tried was a flatbread, one of three listed on the menu, topped with prosciutto, Gruyere cheese, basil and a luscious helping of balsamic fig spread. We had it for lunch, but it would make a great shared appetizer, too.
Probably the worst thing we tried was the spicy shrimp po'boy, which was a big sandwich of fried little nothings, also known as rock shrimp, with some Cajun seasoning. In fairness, the menu did divulge that the sandwich was made with rock shrimp — we missed that, somehow. We'll take the fall for ordering it, but, really, who wants rock shrimp on a po'boy?
And then there was the great in-between, appetizers and sandwiches that you weren't particularly sorry you ordered but that you wouldn't recommend to a friend, either. Buttermilk-battered calamari with a good crunch but a sugary sweet taste; a Bayou shrimp appetizer, basically sauteed shrimp in a spicy tomato sauce that really needs super-fresh shrimp to work; the Boathouse wings, which are coated with Old Bay and honey, but too much honey.
There was a pretty decent barbecue burger, topped with cheddar and crispy onions, which was undermined by limp, lukewarm fries.
The menu's freshest idea is a choose-your-own-salad section. Using a tick-sheet, you check off your greens, your dressing and up to seven extras — things like cucumbers, artichoke hearts, mushrooms and hard-boiled egg. For 10 bucks, you get a nice big salad, and I could see making a meal out of it on a warm summer night.
Proteins like grilled salmon (flavorless, it turned out), chicken breast or mahi mahi are extra.
I think the Boathouse has its head, and heart, in the right place. The owners have said that their first goal was to satisfy their neighbors, those living in the townhouses, apartment complexes and marinas that line the waterfront. They wanted to start with a simple menu — entrees will be coming soon, but for now it's just appetizers, sandwiches and salads.
I get that, but I still think the food could be better, more interesting, or just something that will make people want to keep supporting the Boathouse.
The Boathouse Canton
Rating: 2 stars
Where: 2809 Boston St., Canton
Contact: 410-773-9795, boathousecanton.com
Open: Noon-11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m.-midnight Friday; 10 a.m.-midnight Saturday; 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday
Prices: Appetizers: $8-$13; sandwiches: $9-$15
Food: American tavern cuisine
Service: Pleasant, but a little disorganized
Parking/accessibility: Parking in the adjacent lot is free for restaurant patrons all day Monday through Thursday and on Friday until 3 p.m. It is a pay lot at other times.
Outdoor dining: There is outdoor seating for approximately 200, including some areas that are only when weather permits.
Children: A children's menu has items like grilled cheese, cheese quesadillas, chicken tenders and peanut butter and jelly.
Special diets: The kitchen can accommodate special dietary requests, and the serving staff is able to suggest modifications to menu items.
Noise level/televisions: The noise level can be brassy in the main dining areas. There are three TVs in the bar area, with their volume typically turned off.
[Star key: Superlative: 5; Excellent: 4; Very Good: 3; Good: 2; Promising: 1]
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Nearby reviews: DishBaltimore.com - Canton/Highlandtown