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 The band had been replaced by an iPod.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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January 2016

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1200 N DuPont Highway
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801 Middleford Road
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500 McKennans Church Rd
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Where:
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1200 N DuPont Highway
Dover, DE  19901
View map »

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Penn Museum
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801 Middleford Rd
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Cost: FREE and open to the public

Where:
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1200 N DuPont Highway
Dover, DE  19901
View map »

More information

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Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
View map »


Website »

More information

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Cost: $0-14

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Hagley Museum
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View map »


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More information

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Where:
, DE

More information

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Where:
, DE

More information

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Where:
, DE

More information

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Delaware State University will feature the following events and exhibitions during its 2016 Black History Month celebration: Wednesday, Feb. 3 Black Lives Matter Symposium Documentary...

Cost: FREE and open to the public

Where:
Delaware State University
1200 N DuPont Highway
Dover, DE  19901
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Our Winter Group Show features oil paintings by Rosemary Castiglioni, Jim Gears and Mary Ann Weselyk. Still-life paintings with subtle color variations by...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

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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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Website »

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Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, taking more lives than all cancers combined. On Friday, Feb. 5, the American Heart Association (AHA) asks that everyone wear red to raise awareness for...

Where:
Dover Downs Hotel and Conference Center
1131 N. DuPont Hwy
Dover, DE
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Two-hour guided tours are offered at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Guests will visit Eleutherian Mills Residence, the first du Pont family home built in America; the First Office...

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
Website »

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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
Website »

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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
Website »

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Prepare to gasp, shudder, and be on the edge of your seat in this ingenious thriller which inspired the classic film that garnered an Academy Award nomination for Audrey Hepburn. This murderous...

Cost: $15-$29

Where:
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd
Newark, DE  19716
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Sponsor: Resident Ensemble Players
Telephone: 302-831-2204
Contact Name: REP Box Office
Website »

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Meeting every Friday, Bayhealth Kent General Hospital, 640 s. State Street, Dover, 7:30 pm., Private Dining Room #3 in the basement. For those who have, or think they may have a gambling problem....

Cost: 0.00

Where:
Bayhealth Kent General Hospital
640 S. State Street
Private Dining Room #3
Dover, DE  19901
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Telephone: 800-855-2CALLGA
Website »

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Chances are, if you look out your windows, it’s pretty wintry. When was the last time you saw lush green plants in that view? We have a cure for your blahs, straight from the...

Where:
, DE

More information

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

More information

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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Location: Lewes Public Library, 111 Adams Ave., Lewes, 2nd Floor Time: 8:40 a.m.–9:30 a.m. Fee: Free

Where:
, DE

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Wear red and dine out at a participating restaurant to receive a free heart-healthy menu item. Tell your server you’re wearing red to celebrate “Wear Red Day.” “Go Red...

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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First Saturdays in the First State   Programs and events on the first Saturday of each month. Sites are open, 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., check website for...

Cost: Free

Where:
First State Heritage Park
121 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd N
Dover, DE  19901
View map »


Sponsor: First State Heritage Park
Telephone: 302-739-9194
Contact Name: Sarah Zimmerman
Website »

More information

Delaware State University will feature the following events and exhibitions during its 2016 Black History Month celebration: Wednesday, Feb. 3 Black Lives Matter Symposium Documentary...

Cost: FREE and open to the public

Where:
Delaware State University
1200 N DuPont Highway
Dover, DE  19901
View map »

More information

First Saturdays in the First State   Programs and events on the first Saturday of each month. Sites are open, 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., check website for...

Cost: Free

Where:
First State Heritage Park
121 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd N
Dover, DE  19901
View map »


Sponsor: First State Heritage Park
Telephone: 302-739-9194
Contact Name: Sarah Zimmerman
Website »

More information

Our Winter Group Show features oil paintings by Rosemary Castiglioni, Jim Gears and Mary Ann Weselyk. Still-life paintings with subtle color variations by...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

On Saturday, Feb. 6, the Wilmington, Del. Chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction will host the 22nd annual Block Kids competition. It’s a free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Hodgson Vo-Tech High School
2575 Glasgow Ave.
Newark, DE  19702
View map »


Sponsor: National Association of Women in Construction
Telephone: 302-453-4000
Contact Name: Laura Massimini
Website »

More information

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
View map »


Website »

More information

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
View map »


Telephone: 302-658-2400
Contact Name: Meg Marcozzi
Website »

More information

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
Website »

More information

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
View map »


Sponsor: The Gibby Center for the Arts
Telephone: 302-449-5396
Contact Name: Caroline Zeitler
Website »

More information

Valentine’s Day isn’t just about romance. Join Macy’s Christiana for an afternoon of Valentine’s Day cheer to celebrate all the loves in your life—including yourself!...

Where:
Macy's at Christiana Mall
Women's Department, Level 1
502 Christiana Mall
Newark, DE  19702
View map »


Contact Name: Jessica Chan

More information

First Saturdays in the First State Programs and events on the first Saturday of each month. Sites are open, 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., check website for details. Free admission. Something new every...

Cost: Free

Where:
First State Heritage Park
121 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd N
43 The Green
Dover, DE  19901
View map »


Sponsor: First State Heritage Park
Telephone: 302-739-9194
Contact Name: Sarah Zimmerman
Website »

More information

The Chadds Ford Historical Society hosts its 8th annual Plein Air art event. Artists will be painting around the local area as well as the Barns Brinton House, John Chads House and Brandywine Creek...

Cost: General Admission: $10 | Exclusive Preview Party (includes 2 Tickets): $50

Where:
Chadds Ford Historical Society
1736 Creek Rd
Chadds Ford, PA  19317
View map »


Telephone: 610-388-7376
Contact Name: Derek Larson OR Allison Schell
Website »

More information

Prepare to gasp, shudder, and be on the edge of your seat in this ingenious thriller which inspired the classic film that garnered an Academy Award nomination for Audrey Hepburn. This murderous...

Cost: $15-$29

Where:
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: Resident Ensemble Players
Telephone: 302-831-2204
Contact Name: REP Box Office
Website »

More information

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

More information

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

More information

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

More information

Chances are, if you look out your windows, it’s pretty wintry. When was the last time you saw lush green plants in that view? We have a cure for your blahs, straight from the...

Where:
, DE

More information

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