Schaefer’s Canal House in Chesapeake City: A Dining Review

Bridging the Gap: Schaefer’s Canal House reopens in Chesapeake City. Does it live up to the hype?



At a Glance

Schaefer’s Canal House
208 Bank St., Chesapeake City, Md.
(410) 885-7200, schaeferscanalhouse.com

Prices
appetizers $7-$15
sandwiches $10-$16
entrées $15-$36
Recommended Dishes 
Panko oysters, crab cakes,
mango-avocado stack

 

The mango-avocado stack with crab and shrimp is a standout dish. It was one of the last perfect evenings of the summer, and the disappearing sun shot the sky full of hazy orange and cool pink swatches high above the C&D Canal. A three-piece calypso band plinked away at steel drums and clacked on claves. A two-story Silverton yacht bobbed in the water.

It was the sort of night made for kicking back at the beautifully restored Schaefer’s Canal House. For taking shelter beneath the bright yellow umbrellas. For staring off into the water.

Only, 40 minutes later, you’re still staring. The snacks still hadn’t arrived. Empty drinks piled up on the edge of the table, and the vibrantly colored sky had turned black. The band had been replaced by an iPod.

Just a few weeks into its revival, Schaefer’s Canal House—a Chesapeake City classic—was slammed. The waterfront restaurant and banquet hall was reborn last summer after a seven-year slumber, and has been aggressively refitted with 750 feet of decking, a marina, a fuel dock and a marine office. The overhaul nearly doubled the restaurant’s capacity to almost 300 seats.

Chef Bruce Wetterau presents his chocolate truffle pie.

On a busy Friday night, a vision of the new Schaefer’s seemed actualized. All 1,200 newly installed deck boards felt the chaos of crowds dancing and carousing, as customers squeezed around a 32-seat outdoor bar and spilled onto the dance floor.

The party raged—unless you were a party of two waiting to eat dinner. The young staff, as well as the kitchen, seemed overwhelmed and frazzled during the restaurant’s initial, hectic weeks. Waiters and runners zipped around frenetically, delivering food to the wrong tables, presenting appetizers before drinks had arrived, and leaving dirty dishes to pile up.

The cooks, led by veteran chef Bruce Wetterau (whose previous posts include the esteemed Kitty Knight House, and the Granary Restaurant) gave the impression that they, too, were under quite a bit of duress.

How else can one explain the Schaefer’s unforgivable Steam Pot? Gritty, sour middleneck clams, and puny, unappetizing mussels skulked among the bottom of a dry roasting pan along with one shriveled lobster tail. Any semblance of seasoning came from two halfhearted shakes of an Old Bay canister and a dish of clarified butter. At $29, the house-special steamer pot shouldn’t be highlighted by corn on the cob.

Diners are treated to a legendary view of the C&D Canal and the Chesapeake City bridge.

Elsewhere, sloppy plating and hastily chosen ingredients torpedoed Schaefer’s best-laid plans. Sliced ahi tuna was smeared messily with wasabi aioli and served with a gloppy pile of wakame seaweed salad.

It’s a shame that food felt like such a harried afterthought, because there were good ideas amid the rubble. Homemade spinach gnocchi, hearty and flavorful in its warm bath of sun-dried tomato cream sauce, choked with starch and chewiness. Other inoffensive fare like crab dip and Waldorf salad were simply underseasoned.

While I sat and shrugged about chicken salad, I wondered: Did anyone else at Schaefer’s mind? It didn’t seem so. On this night, the new-look Schaefer’s is party central—high-volume, resort-style dining, with drinks in hand. Waiting 55 minutes for a table? Grab a mojito, watch the game, and dance to a calypso version of “Funkytown.”

The view of the C&D Canal bridge is a Schaefer’s signature.Much like its neighbors at the cross-canal Chesapeake Inn, Schaefer’s is bound to spend summer nights as central HQ for much docking, drinking and dancing. The renovated deck and outside bars created by new owner John Giordano and family create a great vibe, and the view out there—particularly at sunset when the suspension cables of the neighboring bridge chop the fading sunrays—is unmatched.

Just then: Wham! A woman’s hand on the railing snapped me back to reality, as a conga line—at least 20 people deep—paraded by, right on cue.

But what about when it’s cold out?

A few weeks later, with fall weather tightening its chilly grip, the inside portion of Schaefer’s felt much calmer. When Wetterau and his staff weren’t running ragged, they were able to author some terrific homespun flavors. Servers, afforded time to breathe, exuded ample charm.

And the food—delivered hot and on time—was often delicious. Panko-breaded oysters,  plump and crispy, held strong onto their texture and briny pop, even under a sprinkling of wasabi aioli and toasted sesame cream. The dueling sauces manage cleverly to accentuate the oysters’ inherent sweetness and pungency.

Panko-breaded oysters receive a sprinkling of wasabi aioli and toasted sesame cream.Chesapeake eateries usually know their way around a blue crab, and Schaefer’s sturdy and meaty crab cakes (broiled lump, little filler) matched the panache of creamy crab dip, which was punctuated by more shredded jumbo lump and sharp cheeses.

Without the crush of summertime revelers, Schaefer’s kitchen proved it could transform ingredients into creative dishes that transcended the fish-house norm. A colorful plate of avocado and ripe mango made fitting dance partners for crabmeat and boiled shrimp, while a drizzle of honey-cilantro glaze reinforced the salad’s clean notes.

Crabmeat again emerged, this time as a plump sweetener in a cascading pool of beurre blanc sauce, which dripped onto wild mushroom risotto from its summit atop a stunningly constructed veal napoleon. Stacked high, crispy cutlets of breaded veal and sautéed spinach towered, and eventually found flavor partners in the woodsy rice, poppy beurre blanc, and piquant roasted tomato.

A choppy opening month aside, I’m willing to count it as a victory for the people of Chesapeake City and its many visitors that they can party at ol’ Schaefer’s Canal House all summer, just as they used to—and enjoy quiet, waterfront refinement during the cold months.

And I’m willing to bet they can’t wait until Memorial Day. 

 

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The Philly Home Show will inspire your inner HGTV star at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia from Feb. 12–14 and 19–21. The show will feature highly interactive...

Cost: $13

Where:
Pennsylvania Convention Center
1101 Arch St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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Explore some of the diverse ways that human beings have understood sex and sexuality, gender and gender diversity in this small but broad new exhibition, presented in conjunction with the 2015-2016...

Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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What was behind the legendary story of King Midas and his golden touch? That is the question to be answered—not with chests full of gold, but with a spectacular array of ancient artifacts,...

Cost: Adults $20; seniors $18; students (with ID) $15; children (ages 6–17) $15

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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Guests can explore three floors of exhibitions in the Visitor Center, stroll along the river through dozens of historic structures from the Industrial Revolution, and explore the gardens and...

Cost: $0-14

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Rd
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-658-2400
Contact Name: Meg Marcozzi
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Penn Museum opens the world premiere exhibition The Golden Age of King Midas—featuring ancient treasures on loan from the Republic of Turkey—with a spectacular daylong public...

Cost: $15

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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This art exhibit features fine art works and three dimensional pieces that embrace the subject “red.” Artist are free to use their imagination and creativity, so works will include...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Gibby Center for the Arts
51 W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
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Sponsor: The Gibby Center for the Arts
Telephone: 302-449-5396
Contact Name: Caroline Zeitler
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For more information, please contact: Dave Ruffner ​Rehoboth Beach Film Society 107 Truitt Ave. Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971 302-645-9095, ext. 4 administrator@rehobothfilm.com...

Cost: Free

Where:
, DE


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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The Rehoboth Beach Film Society and CAMP Rehoboth will co-present "Tab Hunter Confidential" and "Portrait of a Serial Monogamist" as part of its annual Another Take...

Cost: $8

Where:
Metropolitan Community Church
19369 Plantation Rd.
Rehoboth Beach, DE  19971
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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"La Sylphide" shares the beautiful and romantic story of our hero, James—a young Scottish farmer who, on the eve of hid wedding, abandons his betrothed, Effie, after being...

Cost: $25

Where:
Salesanium School
1801 North Broom St.
Wilmington, DE  19802
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Sponsor: Academy of International Ballet
Telephone: 1-866-908-5666
Contact Name: Denis Gronostayskiy
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Venture back with us for an evening where we re-imagine the Victorian Industrial Age as seen through our steam-powered, futuristic goggles.  Our biggest fundraiser of the year and all proceeds...

Cost: $100-$110

Where:
Smyrna Opera House
7 West South Street
Smyrna, DE  19977
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A spoiled orphan girl is sent to live with her uncle on the Yorkshire moors and discovers renewed life, for herself and her sickly cousin, in bringing her dead aunt’s secret garden back to...

Cost: $15–$18

Where:
The Secret Garden
47 W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
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Sponsor: The Everett Theatre
Telephone: 302-540-8561
Contact Name: Chris Everett
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Location: St. Mark’s High School, 2501 Pike Creek Road, Wilmington Time: Registration: 11:30 a.m. Race: 12:30 p.m. Fee: $25 (until Thursday, Feb. 11), $35 after and day of event...

Where:
, DE

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Location: Beebe Healthcare’s Medical Center, 424 Savannah Road, Lewes Date: Saturday, Feb. 13 (and the second Saturday of each month) Time: 9 a.m. Fee: Free For more...

Where:
, DE

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Ditch the winter whites for a world of dazzling color at Longwood Gardens, where you can stroll through thousands of orchids in bloom. Kennett Square, www.longwoodgardens.org 

Where:
, DE

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A successful writer of Broadway thrillers is struggling to overcome a dry spell when he receives a script from a student —a potential Broadway hit. Thereafter suspense...

Where:
, DE

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Regional artists Carol Tippit Woolworth, Catherine Drabkin, Pahl Alexander Hluchan, Colleen Randall and Dan Jackson explore the concept of place—physical, emotional and spiritual—in...

Where:
, DE

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