As down-home, neighborhood fish joints go, Schooners fills the bill

January 31, 1992|By Lynn Williams

Schooners is not going to win any beauty contests. It has the look of a suburban road house, and, sitting on the fringes of the commercial hustle of the Belair Road, it is easy to miss. Once inside, diners have to pass through a bar to get to the dining room; although a few nautical pictures and stuffed game fish have been hung in a bid for "atmosphere," the place is definitively frill-free.

Just the place, in other words, to eat lobster.

Despite its reputation as rich-folks' food, lobster is a sloppy treat that, like steamed crabs, should never be eaten in a fancy restaurant. (Unless you have no shame about wearing a bib, sucking your fingers, slopping melted butter on the tablecloth and dropping your lemon on the floor in full view of a haughty maitre d'.) Lobsters are easy to fix at home, but many diners -- including this one -- lose their nerve when faced with a pot of boiling water and a squirming live lobster with murder in his eye. And the last time I bought a lobster at the supermarket to be steamed and taken home, the fishmonger plucked it out of the tank, grinned at it, and addressed it as "Big Guy." I ate it, but felt vaguely guilty.

A plain-Jane neighborhood fish joint, one with paper place mats and no pretensions, fills the bill perfectly. It usually doesn't charge much for the privilege, either.

The Tuesday night lobster at Schooners costs $10.95, including salad and vegetable. There are daily specials as well (Italian food and Baltimore classics like sour beef, as well as seafood), mostly priced under $10.

And how was the lobster? Just as it should be -- sweet, a bit chewy, and pre-cracked in all the right places.

While one often doesn't expect culinary marvels from places this down-home, Schooners manages capably in most departments. The broiled seafood platter ($15.95) did well by its crab cake (mostly crab, conservatively seasoned) shrimp scampi (buttery, not chintzy on the garlic), and simple, tender scallops. But the imperial-stuffed oyster was topped with what I took to be melted mozzarella, but was really a slick coating of mayo. Yuck.

The cole slaw and mashed potatoes recalled school lunchrooms past, but the beef barley soup ($1.95) had a homemade look and taste, and the not-too-incendiary Buffalo chicken wings ($3.95) were served with thick, authentic blue cheese dressing.

Mention should also be made of the surprisingly delicious table bread, made, our nice young waitress told us, by John's Bakery in Essex.

Desserts were one-for-one. We liked the subtle spicing of the pumpkin cheesecake, but the deep dish apple pie had a peculiar flavor we couldn't place -- and weren't sure we wanted to. Dr. Pepper? Cherry cough syrup?

Schooners

Where: 7703 Belair Road.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.

Credit cards: AE, MC, V.

Features: Seafood, Italian food.

Non-smoking section? No, but staff will try to accommodate non-smokers' needs.

Call: (410) 661-7538.

** 1/2

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