LOCAL FLAVOUR: Watermark Taphouse & Grille

Not everyone can take a former East Side Mario's site, completely renovate, rebrand and open a California fusion Canadian gastro pub in an expanding town full of franchises and photocopied retail outlets. But not everyone can work with their entire family 12 hours a day, six to seven days a week either. And that's what makes the Watermark Taphouse & Grille not your average restaurant. Two grown siblings, two parents, 23-years of experience and the legacy of a restaurateur grandfather have merged to create this family-owned and operated gastro grill house, a new independent business challenging Waterdown's burgeoning community.

Opened in December 2010, just in time for holiday parties and corporate shindigs, Watermark Pub is a chic lounge catering to suburbanites looking for a night away from toddlers and teenagers. Casual elegance is the theme of this boutique restaurant with dark wood, white-leather banquettes and mosaic-tiled walls. According to Jessica Alexopoulos, general manager, occasional waitress and full-time daughter of co-owners Nick and Janice Alexopoulos, “Our goal is to create an upscale tap house with nice meals at a fair price. And privacy is very important.”

True, one of the charms of this cosmopolitan decor is the high-backed booths that create an intimate VIP experience for every group who slides up to the trendy table. The design invites a leisurely dining experience, where guests can make a night of it. “Our demographic is the 30-something and up crowd,” says Jessica, “We're a gathering spot for a ladies night out, or business people stopping in on their way home.”

If a secluded booth is a little too cozy for the gang who wants to watch the game, the bar area easily accommodates socializing with five large screen TV screens behind the bar, high tables with low-backed stools and 12 different beers on tap. There's  also a crafted wine list featuring select Californian, Argentinean, Australian and Niagara Region vineyard offerings, along with a fun cocktail list (when was the last time you had a Tom Collins?) featuring the Watermark signature cocktail of X-rated fusion liqueur, white cranberry juice, and gin.

But ultimately, it's about the food. And that's especially true for one-of-a-kind destination spots like Watermark. Jessica's brother, Dan Alexopoulos, is the head chef and responsible for all menu creations. His parents have worked in the food service industry for more than 20 years and he apprenticed with his grandfather at an iconic high-end steak house in Burlington. This place, however, doesn't boast your grandparent's steak and potato menu, though influences sneak in.

For instance, Coconut Rum Mahi Mahi is a twist on classic British fish and chips, and unconventional wonton wrappers replace chips in the California Fusion Nachos, that are free from run-of-the-mill melted cheese and ground beef. There's a slight Greek influence to the Sonoma Chicken marinated in grapes, tomatoes, olives, and garlic; though California-fusion is the description of choice for the menu that will change slightly seasonally.

What will remain consistent, though, are the experimental staples garnering attention from foodies looking for new taste combos, such as the notable Cadbury Salad with chocolate and balsamic dressing, spicy pecans, and red meat.

Seasonal produce is top of mind during the creation of specials, Jessica says, and everything is freshly made, nothing packaged, not even pre-packaged spices like you might find at familiar franchises. “Quality takes time,” she adds. “The chefs constantly taste sauces (including the signature habanera infused marinara) to make sure they are right and all soup is homemade everyday from scratch.” Specials are based on what's fresh that week from suppliers and include surprise options such as stuffed lamb, venison or quail dishes, if the kitchen is so inspired.

Jessica, who found her way to her family's latest business via the financial industry, occasionally moonlights on the floor, waitressing a night or two a week without letting customers know she's part owner of the restaurant. This way, she says, she gets to experience the workings of the dining room from the front lines. “It's important to serve customers and get first-hand reactions,” she says. “I love seeing the plates empty, getting great compliments and witnessing how happy people are and how much they enjoy the restaurant. It's worth working hard to get a great reaction,” she says.

RECIPE: Fusion Wonton Nachos
RECIPE: Stuffed Leg of Lamb with Goat Cheese and Fresh Mint

115 Hamilton Street North, Waterdown; 905.690.6275