Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily; dinner until 12:30 a.m., midnight on Sunday. Prices: Most dinner entrees $9 to $12. Cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa.
"Uneven" is the best adjective to describe Schooner Bay. This is a seafood restaurant with some solid virtues but some serious flaws. Whether you dine well here depends largely on what you order.
This is a simple, yet good-looking place. It has a lively bar and lounge with big-screen television and a couple of uncommonly pretty, softly-lit dining rooms with a no-smoking section, a commendable touch.
To begin with, the clams casino are flawless. They are fresh and tender, unsullied by bread crumbs, with diced green pepper and a touch of sharp cheese and topped with lightly broiled bacon. Another good starter is steamed oysters, which are plump and fresh and a good buy at $4.25 for about a dozen. Stuffed mushroom caps are good, too, with a filling that's nearly all crab. With less mayonnaise flavor, they'd be even better.
The oyster stew was properly buttery, but the bowl we tried was remarkably skimpy on the oysters. Cream of crab soup was a bust -- unpleasantly overthickened and strangely sweet.
Fried dishes are generally good here. The oil seems fresh, the batters lightly applied, the frying quick and hot. The result is coatings that are crisp, fairly delicate and free of excess grease.
Fried oysters are a good example. Like the steamers, they're plump and fresh, and the frying seals in the flavor and juiciness, to be released at the first bite. Fried shrimp and scallops are well prepared, too: tender, sweet and lightly fried -- which makes the fried combination platter a good choice, particularly because the haddock on the platter is reasonably tasty.
Not so tasty were the two fresh fish entrees we ordered. The snapper was dry, overcooked and a bit past its prime, and the swordfish was downright elderly.
Back to a positive note with the very good Norfolk-style dishes: crab meat, shrimp, lobster or scallops sauteed in butter, with or without garlic. The shellfish are flavorful and chunky,(even the lobster), and the dishes don't suffer from the usual overabundance of butter.
The crab imperial is a case of top-notch raw materials let down by dull execution. Commendably, the dish is almost pure crab, fresh, snowy and uncut by lots of filler. The problem is blandness.
Search as you may for a bit of flavor beyond the unadorned crab -- mustard, pepper, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, onion, anything -- you don't come up with much. Crab cakes are similarly afflicted. Again, good crab meat, but no zip.
The ancillary items at Schooner Bay are humdrum at best. They include runny, oversweet cole slaw, head lettuce salads with gloppy dressings, and rolls that aren't seriously meant to be eaten.
Although the desserts aren't made in-house, there are a couple of good ones: a dark, deep-flavored chocolate truffle cake and a flaky-crusted, firm-fruited apple pie that is neither too sweet nor too gummy. Forget the key lime pie, though, which is colored green and tastes mainly of sugar.