Schula's Grill and Crab House

Published June 02, 2011 - The Dish
By Karen Gardner

HAGERSTOWN -- Schula's is like a slice of the Chesapeake Bay in Hagerstown. This is the place to go if you're a seafood lover. Schula's is conveniently located on the east side of Hagerstown, a little more than a mile off Interstate 70 at exit 32B, about a half-hour's drive from downtown Frederick.

If you're looking for an all-around seafood meal, from crabs to clams to fish, this is the place to come.

If the restaurant is running one of its frequent all-you-can-eat crab specials, that would well be worth trying. On a recent evening, the AYCE crabs were $29.95, which is quite a bargain considering the price of crabs. Add to it the fact that we are well inland, and that makes the deal even more inviting.

On the evening of our visit, we didn't have the time to eat hard-shell crabs, but we opted for other seafood offerings. Having just returned from a weekend on the Eastern Shore, we felt well-qualified to judge the seafood we were about to try.

We started with an order of one dozen steamed clams ($9.95). Although clams are more often found in New England, this delectable little mollusk has long been one of the bay's offerings to us, and I was happy to give the clams a try. Clams from the brackish waters of the Chesapeake should have that saltwater flavor, and these did. These clams were fresh, had that taste of saltwater and were cooked to perfection. They were served in a light butter sauce, which enhanced but did not smother the clam flavor.

I grew up in Baltimore, where clams and oysters were a regular part of our diet, whether they were raw, steamed or fried. These clams matched the flavor of those in my memory.

My husband opted for a Colossal Crab Cake ($22.95). It was large, as promised, and full of lump crab meat. It was spicy, but not overly so. The crab meat was freshly picked, and retained its lumpy texture. The crab flavor was almost as good as what you would find at eateries along the bay. The baked potato that accompanied it was perfectly oven-baked, and still had its foil wrapping.

We were each served salads with our meals. The lettuce was fresh and crispy, with plenty of onion and tomato. Dressings are homemade, and very good. Commercial salad dressings tend to be overly salty, and at Schula's, the salty flavors are limited to the saltwater offerings.

I ordered Stuffed Cod ($21.95). This was stuffed with Schula's crab stuffing. This was melt-in-your-mouth good. The cod was fresh and flaky, with a meaty texture. The lemon crumb sauce was very light, and enhanced the flavor of the cod. The crab stuffing was mostly crab, with seasonings. The serving size was quite large. I ordered the vegetable of the day along with the salad, and I was served fresh green beans that had a very light butter sauce.

When we arrived, we were given a loaf of warm, crusty French bread. My husband ordered a Sam Adams draft beer, and he was impressed to see that the beer was served in a special Sam Adams mug. We toured the brewery on a recent trip to Boston, and were told the brewery designed these mugs because they enhance the flavor of the beer.

Service was prompt and attentive. Our server kept our water glasses filled, and checked back frequently to make sure we had what we needed.

Schula's offers just about everything a seafood lover would want, whether visiting for lunch or dinner. The offerings on the lunch and dinner menus include crab cake sandwiches, hot crab and artichoke dip, fried calamari, steamed mussels, crab soup, fried or grilled fish, snow crab, king crab and dungeness crab, shrimp, scallops and lobster. For the non-seafood lover, there is chicken, steak, a variety of salads, burgers, and pasta with various sauces. Beverages include raspberry iced tea. There is also a children's menu, including fried shrimp and chicken tenders.

The restaurant has a bar area, with TV screens showing soccer during our visit. The dining area is separate. It is clean and spare looking, with white beadboard paneling and hardwood floors and tables. On the walls are photos and illustrations of aquatic creatures and fishing vessels. There is an area of the dining room partitioned off for large groups. Even with a large group occupying that area and most of the tables filled, it was easy for us to carry on a conversation.

Schula's is owned by Rick and Frances Sciulla (pronounced Schula), not to be confused with Coach Don Shula of steakhouse fame. The Sciulla's daughter Danielle Bloom is the general manager. The family has been in the seafood and food service business for 35 years.

Reservations are recommended on weekends, because the restaurant does get crowded. We plan to return, the next time we get a hankering for Chesapeake Bay seafood.

The Dish reports on an unannounced dining experience and is not meant to be a critical review.