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 The band had been replaced by an iPod.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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February 2017

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Telephone: 302-577-8278
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Cost: free

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Telephone: 302-658-9111
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Cost: FREE

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2nd Floor, Carvel Building
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View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8278
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
Website »

More information

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Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
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View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Uncover the facts, fictions, and fossils of Dinosaur Revolution as you LIVE LARGE in reptilian role-play activities. Undertake three Mesozoic Missions spanning 150 million years and mimic dinosaur...

Cost: Free with Admission

Where:
Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Newark, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-658-9111
Website »

More information

Uncover the facts, fictions, and fossils of Dinosaur Revolution as you LIVE LARGE in reptilian role-play activities at the Delaware Museum of Natural History's newest special exhibit. Undertake...

Cost: Adults: $9 Children (3-17): $7 Seniors (60+): $8 Under 3: FREE Members: FREE

Where:
Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Website »

More information

Between 1917 and 1944, the Society of Independent Artists (SIA) hosted annual exhibitions for its members. Famous painters and Sunday painters were able to exhibit their work in enormous open shows...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

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The Rehoboth Beach Film Society announces the next play in the exciting series of National Theatre Live screenings. National Theatre Live is a groundbreaking project that presents the best of...

Cost: $18-$20

Where:
Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
Lewes, DE
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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Nanticoke Weight Loss & General Surgery will host bariatric support groups on Tuesday, Feb. 7 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. and Monday, Feb. 27 from 6 to 7 p.m. in the Medical Staff...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Nanticoke Memorial Hospital
801 Middleford Road
Seaford, DE  19973
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Telephone: 302-536-5395
Contact Name: Nanticoke Weight Loss & General Surgery
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Tutto Fresco has live entertainment every Friday night from 6:30–9:30 p.m. Call for details. http://tuttofrescode.com/

Where:
Tutto Fresco
514 Philadelphia Pike
Wilmington, DE  19809
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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
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JOHNNY WINTER ALL STAR BAND The Johnny Winter Band has been wowing audiences everywhere with incredible music played by Johnny's band and guest artists. Join Paul Nelson and The JW Band in a...

Cost: $20 ADV + $22 DOS + FEES

Where:
World Cafe Live Wilmington
500 N Market St
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 215-222-1400
Contact Name: MP Intern
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Now in its 8th year, the PAWS for People Conference/Annual Meeting is designed for those who love their pets, are pet enthusiasts or who want to learn more about the world of Pet Therapy. This...

Cost: $45 through 2/14; $50 after that date; $5 discount for PAWS members.

Where:
Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children
1600 Rockland Road
Wilmington, DE  19803
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Sponsor: PAWS for People
Telephone: 302-351-5622
Contact Name: Clarice Ritchie
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February 3 – 25 Group Show featuring still life paintings in oil by Rosemary Castiglioni; gestural animal paintings by Gay Freeborn; and plein air landscapes from Zion National Park,...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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Uncover the facts, fictions, and fossils of Dinosaur Revolution as you LIVE LARGE in reptilian role-play activities at the Delaware Museum of Natural History's newest special exhibit. Undertake...

Cost: Adults: $9 Children (3-17): $7 Seniors (60+): $8 Under 3: FREE Members: FREE

Where:
Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Uncover the facts, fictions, and fossils of Dinosaur Revolution as you LIVE LARGE in reptilian role-play activities. Undertake three Mesozoic Missions spanning 150 million years and mimic dinosaur...

Cost: Free with Admission

Where:
Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Newark, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-658-9111
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The Wilmington & Western Railroad's Hockessin Art Festival is a fundraising effort to benefit the railroad. Over 25 artists will be displaying and selling limited-edition...

Cost: $3 for art show admission; $5 for train fare (children under 2 are free)

Where:
Hockessin Memorial Hall
606 Yorklyn Road
Hockessin, DE  19707
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Sponsor: Wilmington & Western Railroad
Telephone: 302-998-1930
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Are you interested in learning more about what volunteer opportunities the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation has to offer? Consider attending our Volunteer Open House at our shipyard in Wilmington, DE from...

Cost:

Where:
Kalmar Nyckel Foundation
1124 E 7th St
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Between 1917 and 1944, the Society of Independent Artists (SIA) hosted annual exhibitions for its members. Famous painters and Sunday painters were able to exhibit their work in enormous open shows...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
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DCM Guests will experience, engage in, and take home different STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathmatics) activities run by Science Ambassadors from the Charter School of Wilmington...

Cost: $8.75

Where:
Delaware Children's Museum
550 Justison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 302-425-4890
Contact Name: Joe Valenti
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The Rehoboth Beach Film Society announces the next play in the exciting series of National Theatre Live screenings. National Theatre Live is a groundbreaking project that presents the best of...

Cost: $18-$20

Where:
Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
Lewes, DE
View map »


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
Website »

More information

Build a hydraulic-powered machine while learning about pressure, water, and power. Families work together to solve science mysteries and engineering challenges. Activities are included in regular...

Cost: Adults: $14, Children 6-14: $5, Children 5 and under and Hagley Members: FREE

Where:
Hagley Museum and Library
200 Hagley Creek Road
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Nanticoke Weight Loss & General Surgery will host bariatric support groups on Tuesday, Feb. 7 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. and Monday, Feb. 27 from 6 to 7 p.m. in the Medical Staff...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Nanticoke Memorial Hospital
801 Middleford Road
Seaford, DE  19973
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Telephone: 302-536-5395
Contact Name: Nanticoke Weight Loss & General Surgery
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An evening of entertainment and hope at the 2017 Wilmington Heart Ball. Each year, community members, medical professionals and corporate leaders come together to celebrate the lifesaving work of...

Cost:

Where:
Chase Center on the Riverfront
815 Justison St
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Join us for an unforgettable evening of entertainment and hope at the 2017 Wilmington Heart Ball.  Each year, community members, medical professionals and corporate leaders come together to...

Cost: $175

Where:
Chase Center on the Riverfront
815 Justison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Sponsor: American Heart Association
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We are a mixture of some of the best and hardest working musicians in the Philadelphia area specializing in a mashup concept, fusing the music of The Allman Brothers Band and The Grateful Dead....

Cost: $10 + FEES

Where:
World Cafe Live- Wilmington
500 North Market Street
Wilmington, DE
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Mo Lowda & The Humble is a three piece Indie-rock group from Philadelphia, PA. The band has created a unique musical style combining various genre's ranging from garage rock to jazz fusion;...

Cost: $10 + FEES

Where:
World Cafe Live- Wilmington
500 North Market Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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