A segment of Baltimore surely would have mourned the loss of Werner’s, a one-time power center for those members of the downtown legal scene who didn’t have an expense account. The iconic Art-Deco, wood-and-chrome diner, opened in 1950, is also a ubiquitous bit player in local films—see Mayor Tommy Carcetti cutting deals over coffee in The Wire and the cramped eatery’s appearances in Ladder 49, Liberty Heights, and Tin Men. An awesome movie set, however, doesn’t necessarily translate into a solid restaurant, and recently, after a couple of ownership changes, Werner’s came close to expiring. But John Smoudianis, a former manager of Never on Sundays in Mt. Vernon, a restaurant owned by his father-in-law, stepped in to keep Werner’s alive with a tried-and-true formula. Smoudianis grew up in New York City, working at his father’s Greek diner in Brooklyn and later at his uncle’s place in New Jersey, and brings a solid grasp of food service to the table.
Even so, while the Greek diner formula with multi-page menus might work for high-volume places in the suburbs or on Manhattan’s busy avenues, Smoudianis has chosen a pared-down approach.
He’s added a few Greek specialties to the usual suspects. So now, in addition to meatloaf and mashed potatoes, a patty melt, or a tuna salad on toast, you can order a slice of spanakopita that is dense with spinach and layered with buttery sheets of phyllo pastry or a souvlaki platter. There are plenty of updates as well. The panini selection includes Texas barbecue and vegetarian, and there are wraps, clubs, a handful of salads, and a series of sandwiches named after favorite sports teams.
The food we sampled—an omelet, a thick Reuben with melted Swiss, a Greek salad with cubes of fresh feta, and a slice of ricotta cheesecake with a honey-drenched baklava crust—was just right.
Along with making the menu his own, Smoudianis has removed a row of banquettes in the center of the restaurant, opening up space for more tables and, perhaps, improving the sightlines for the next movie crew.
›› Werner’s, 231 E. Redwood St., 443-842-7430. Hours: 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Mon.-Fri. Breakfast platters: $4.25-8.50, lunch: $4.75-$12.75; delivery and catering also available.