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Putting Money on the Table

Charles Nabit, co-owner, Waterfront Kitchen. Photo by Arianne Teeple
Charles Nabit, co-owner, Waterfront Kitchen. Photo by Arianne Teeple
After eight years of anticipation, the $200 million Four Seasons Baltimore Hotel put out its welcome mat and brought with it a celebrity chef restaurant Wit and Wisdom. Another, Pabu, will debut in February.

Two years after DuClaw Brewing Co. turned off its taps in Fells Point, the sleek lounge, sports bar and restaurant Bond Street Social started serving up suds and grub in its space in October.

And five years after the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park museum started selling tickets, a $1.5 million “mission-driven” restaurant owned by Charles Nabit and Michael Klein has opened its doors.

The recession took its toll on new restaurant openings during the last few years as diners stopped digging into their wallets. But 2011 saw a flurry of new eateries as investors once again put money on the table in Greater Baltimore restaurants. About half a dozen opened in Harbor East, Little Italy and Fells Point within the last six months and several more will open in 2012.

“We’re seeing an uptick in available capital,” says Chesapeake Real Estate Group Principal Neil Tucker. The Baltimore developer owns the Bagby building in Little Italy, home to Vino Rosina, Bagby Pizza Co. and newly opened Ten Ten.

Banks’ commercial and industrial loans rose 6 percent in November and nearly 15 percent in October, compared with a 4 percent decline last year, according to Federal Reserve data.

In most cases, banks aren’t taking a chance on just anyone, but restaurant owners with a proven track record.

“Is it a good time for being a first time restaurateur? Absolutely not,” says Celeste Corsaro, director of membership at the Restaurant Association of Maryland.

Another thing the new restaurants have in common: They offer casual, bistro-like settings instead of white tablecloths that scream “expensive” to price-sensitive diners. 

And more of these restaurants are in store for 2012.

Chesapeake Real Estate Group has purchased the former Bohager’s building -- at the corner of Fleet and Central Streets -- for $3.1 million. About half of the 25,000-square-foot building will contain restaurants. Tucker says he is talking to smaller restaurant concepts in New York and Baltimore to fill the space.

Chesapeake’s Bagby building in Little Italy will get Fleet Street Kitchen in the spring. It’s the latest concept from Bagby Restaurant Group, which operates newly opened Ten Ten and will open Cunningham Kitchen at Towson City Center next year.  

Here’s a sample of the recent entrants to the culinary scene East of the Inner Harbor.

Wit and Wisdom
Type of cuisine: Modern American regional cuisine from Pennsylvania to South Carolina
Menu highlights: Lobster corndogs, bison tartare, Amish organic chicken
The scene: The restaurant’s got a bustling bar that is Baltimore’s latest place to see and be seen. With tunes ranging from Common to the Black Keys to Jimmy Hendrix, the music should appeal to a variety of folks, says General Manager Anthony Kinn.

Waterfront Kitchen
Type of cuisine: Seed-to-table modern American
Menu highlights: Maryland rockfish, herbed winter vegetable pot pie, warm farmer’s cheese flan
The story: It’s got big windows overlooking the water with views of Tide Point and the Domino Sugar plant. It uses vegetables from the Living Classroom Foundation’s Baltimore Urban Gardening with Students program and employs several individuals in the foundation’s Project Serve initiative, which provides job training for at-risk young adults.

Chazz: A Bronx Original
Type of cuisine: Pizza and Italian specialties
Menu highlights: Margherita pizza, veal meatball, mozzarella bar
So you heard about this place? In case you’ve been living under a rock, Chazz Palminteri is a partner in the joint, along with Sergio and Alessandro Vitale of Aldo’s Italian Restaurant. Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Lewis and Al Pacino have been spotted in the place.

Ten Ten
Type of cuisine: Southern-influenced New American
Menu highlights: Seared sea scallops with cauliflower puree, bacon-wrapped dates, rockfish with southern-style succotash, grilled shrimp and grits
The space: While you’re waiting for your food, you can peruse the photos of Rome’s Spanish Steps and an African tribe that owner David Smith took during his travels. That’s the same David Smith who is CEO of Sinclair Broadcast Group. 

Bond Street Social

Type of cuisine: Global fusion of European, Latin, Asian and the Chesapeake Bay
Menu highlights: Fish tacos, miso-glazed salmon, skillet roasted lobster pot pie.
Who is behind it: Philadelphia restaurant operators Michael Mastellone and John Durkin partnered with Mad River Bar & Grill’s John Durkin to open this 200-seat spot.

Photos by Arianne Teeple

- Charles Nabit, owner, of Waterfront Kitchen
- Roasted Maryland Rockfish with caramelized cippolini onions, yukon gold potatoes, flat leaf parsley and black truffle jus at Waterfront Kitchen
- The dining room at Waterfront Kitchen
- Anthony Kinn, general manager of Wit and Wisdom Tavern
- The interior of Wit and Wisdom Tavern
- Maryland blue crab gratin imperial with grilled Hamilton Bakery country bread at Wit and Wisdom
- Chazz: A Bronx Original pizza restaurant

Photos by Julekha Dash

- Ten Ten's Maryland rockfish and shrimp and grits
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