Busch's seafood is pricey, but worth the trip

January 15, 1998|By Dawn Fallik | Dawn Fallik,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A good fish place is hard to find, especially one that offers selection and quality in the middle of winter.

So it's worth heading for Busch's Chesapeake Inn, tucked on Busch's Frontage Road off U.S. 50 on the way to the Bay Bridge. The only deterrent may be the price, which is a little steep for most post-holiday pockets.

The original restaurant was little more than a large shack, measuring 20 feet by 20 feet and without electricity or plumbing when it opened in 1946. The inn, then known as "Busch's Dri-Vin," offered only a few options: hamburgers, hot dogs and crab cakes.

Gas lanterns provided light, the nearby woods were the only "facilities," and a hand-dug well provided the water.

As business increased, so did the size of the restaurant, until the 16,000-square-foot building was destroyed by a fire in November 1977.

Happily, the family rebuilt the restaurant, and, at 22,000 square feet, it remains ready to receive patrons. The wood-paneled rooms and cozy atmosphere are equally welcoming for couples and families who need a bit of room to spread out.

On a wintry Saturday night, the restaurant was far from full, even though the earliest reservation available was at 7: 30 p.m.

My sister and I started with the baked clams casino ($6.95) and deviled crab balls ($6.95) from the hot appetizer menu. The clams -- served whole, not minced -- were terrific, even without the requisite dipping butter.

The crab balls were a bit on the greasy side, although the spices helped offset the sogginess a bit.

The matriarch had a cup of cream of crab soup ($3.25), which she thought was well-seasoned but a bit too thick to be called a soup.

The menu offers a wide selection of baked, broiled and fried seafood choices, along with a few beef and chicken options.

For those in the mood for a rare treat, whole lobster is available, served steamed and plain or stuffed with crab imperial or a herb bread stuffing.

My sister would have preferred her lobster ($29) broiled, but that option was not available, so she chose to have the 1 1/2 -pound crustacean stuffed with crab imperial, which was delicious.

The salmon ($18.95) with cucumber sauce was not as good. Although the fish itself was excellent, tender yet firm, the sauce was almost bitter and had hard pieces of what tasted like cucumber rind. It was easily exchanged for Hollandaise sauce, a much better choice.

I chose the Chesapeake Special ($20.95), a combination of shrimp, scallops, fish filet, calamari and crab cake, having half of the food fried and the other half broiled. The broiled choices were excellent, the scallops lightly seasoned and the filet well-cooked.

But the fried selections, especially the crab cake, were too greasy to be enjoyed.

The huge entree portions are served with salad, rolls and potato, so even the heartiest eater will waddle out of the inn without complaining.

By dessert time, we three could move no more, and we chose to take home chocolate mousse cake and Key lime pie.

The cake was a delight with coffee, but the pie was bitter and almost pasty. Most of the desserts are not baked on the premises, according to the staff.

The total bill for three, including coffee and tip, was $120, a bit hefty for a regular night out but not unusual for a special occasion or to satisfy the lobster-eating urge.

Busch's Chesapeake Inn

Where: 321 Busch's Frontage Road, Annapolis. 410-757-1717 or 301-261-2034

Hours: Dinner, 11: 30 a.m. to 9 pm. Tuesday-Thursday; 11: 30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday; 11: 30 a.m. to 10: 30 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday; Closed Mondays.

Prices: Entrees from $17 to $30. Lobster is market price

Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, Discover, Carte Blanche, Diners Club, American Express

Handicapped accessible

Rating: ***

Ratings: * culinary wasteland

**** culinary heaven

Pub Date: 1/15/98

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