One month ago, while strolling down Water Street in Warren, I realized that a striking maritime mural had suddenly taken over the side of the former Nathaniel Porter Inn. This awesome artistic piece (by Michael Ezzell) was the calling card of a recent addition to the local food scene: The Waterdog, a new restaurant I knew nothing about.
I immediately started hunting for details about this mysterious eatery like a culinary Dick Tracy. The day they opened, I insisted we go. I hustled my girlfriend Gina down through the broken seashells at the foot of their back entrance. Going by their decor, I expected down-and-dirty experimental seafood dishes, far from the pristine white exteriors of Newport-style seafood restaurants (which I also love). But Waterdog – with its brick-red relaxed exterior and folk art mural – was brimming with personality.
I was not disappointed. The rooms inside are varied, to say the least. A spacey, dreamy hallway connects multiple dining rooms, each with its own identity. A nautical theme is consistent throughout, but besides that, they offer a mishmash of white-and-black tile, shiplap, and delightfully kitschy flower wallpaper, depending on the room.
Our first dish is now my favorite item on the menu: Street Corn Crab Dip. The thick, cheesy dip has a little sweetness (the crab!) and a little spice (sriracha!) that was complex enough to be an entree by itself, and is served with light, crisp-fried wontons. This was a perfect way to introduce us to Waterdog’s style – seafood with the attitude of “anything goes”, much like its dining room decor.
Doubling down on that approach, the Shrimp Mozambique Rangoons were incredible. Occasionally you’ll find restaurants putting together two unlike foods, just for the sake of doing something different; I refer to that as “stunt dish.” But Waterdog has created something truly thought-out and delicious by combining garlic, sazòn, and hot sauce of Mozambique with the velvety saltiness of cream cheese.
As an entree, I got the Waterdog Chowder, which was an elevated take on white clam chowder. It features the traditional soft chunks of potato, but with littlenecks in the shell and topped with grilled pesto bread. We also got the titular Waterdog itself, a large all-beef hot dog (think the size of Spike’s Junkyard Dogs) with pulled pork, salsa verde, pico, and cheddar cheese. On paper it sounded like a random assortment of toppings, but in execution, it made for a balanced, nuanced series of tastes and textures.
Finally, we got the dessert I’d been eyeing since we first arrived. Near the bottom of the menu, begging many questions, was a dessert simply titled “PB + J.” Would it be a sandwich? How is this a dessert? Their peanut butter and raspberry jam “square” was deep-fried, sprinkled with powdered sugar, and topped with vanilla ice cream. This dessert was the best way I’ve ever experienced the peanut butter and jelly flavor combination. The crunch of the fry batter added an unexpected crispy consistency to the dish – the way that chips enhance dip – and cut through the salty peanut butter, sweet jam, and smooth, rich ice cream.
I was legitimately surprised and excited throughout the meal, over and over again. Waterdog is doing something different and fun – but with poise and great care. Creating a unique identity in the restaurant-dense East Bay is a tall order, but Waterdog delivers.