It has been several years since I visited Chic’s Seafood restaurant, the little place on the corner of Summit Avenue and West Lee Street in Hagerstown, with the distinctive big crab on the roof.My friends and I entered the restaurant in the carry-out area. Large display cases are filled with fresh fish and shellfish just waiting to be plopped in the fryer or under the broiler. Big fat stuffed shrimp, crab cakes and accompanying salads filled the trays. The smell of fresh fish was intoxicating.
We were greeted at the door by a friendly fellow behind the counter who invited us to proceed to the right into the restaurant area. Walking into Chic’s is like going to the beach. In the best crab shack tradition, there are booths and tables with mismatched chairs surrounded by old, wide rough paneling. The atmosphere is dark and cozy. Old newspaper articles and posters from years ago cover the walls.
Our waitress met us as we entered and indicated we could sit anywhere we chose. She immediately took our drink order and left us with the menu. The emphasis at Chic’s is seafood, seafood and more seafood. A few of the appetizers are non-seafood and there are also some sandwiches and subs for the non-fish eater. A chicken tenders snack basket and a New York strip steak complete the options for land lubbers. The rest of the menu is all fish: crabs in all ways possible, shrimp, fish filets and steaks, scallops and oysters and even lobster.
Fortunately, all of us love seafood so we were in heaven choosing among the many options. I decided to get the fried sea scallops with a side salad and potato salad. My gentleman friend, Pap Ricka, is a crab cake lover and picked them immediately with spicy potato wedges and cole slaw. Our other friend, Penny Pasta, got two soft shelled crabs, a side salad and a baked potato. We also decided on an order of steamed clams on the half shell as an appetizer.
Chic’s is a no frills kind of place. There were paper placemats and crockery that was sturdy and durable. The restaurant puts its energy into the quality of its seafood, not in the elegance of its surroundings. And it works well. Chic’s could easily be set down in the middle of Ocean City, Md., or Myrtle Beach, S.C., and be right at home.
Our clams came with the shells open—signifying that they were cooked properly — and heaped on the plate with lemon and drawn butter. We dug in and began making those primal sounds that one makes when the food is really good. The clams were chewy as clams tend to be, but had a delicious moist center that popped when bitten. The smell was straight from the ocean and the flavor was that briny, saltwater taste that is unique to shellfish.
Our salads came next. These were a traditional tossed salad with the ordinary ingredients I recall from my childhood: iceberg lettuce, shredded carrots, red onion, cabbage and celery. No arugula, shitake mushrooms, walnuts or goat cheese here. This was plain and traditional. The ingredients were fresh and satisfying.
Our dinners made a prompt appearance after we finished the clams and salads. My scallops were plentiful and a deep golden color. They had a traditional breading and were served with tartar sauce. Cooked just right, they were hot and tender with a good scallop taste.
The tartar sauce was good, not great. I gobbled them quickly, although by the time I reached the last of them, the breading had gotten a bit soggy on the bottom.
The potato salad was different from the usual fare. It was very zippy and left a tingle on my tongue. Pap tasted it and really liked it. I was not as thrilled.
Pap also liked his cole slaw, which again was very traditional: creamy and sweet. His broiled crab cakes were good without a lot of fill. Crab cakes are the subject of much debate so I will just say the he liked them and found them to be very tasty. His spicy potato wedges were outstanding. Hot and crisp on the outside, tender on the inside.
Penny’s soft shelled crabs made a huge mountain of deep-fried deliciousness on her plate. The batter was a dark golden brown and extra crispy. The batter tended to retain the frying oil so Penny could only manage to eat one. Fortunately, Pap had room for the second. We all agreed that the flavor and texture were great, but they were a tad oily.
We had no room for dessert, so just asked for the check. Our waitress had checked with us during the meal to make sure we had what we needed, refilled our drinks and was friendly and pleasant. In fact, other employees in the restaurant talked to us to inquire how we were getting along and how we liked the food. The service was good.
Parking at Chic’s was no problem for us as we went during a week night. The restaurant is surrounded by a small lot. On the weekends, parking might be more of an issue and parking on the street might be required.
The restrooms were clean, but the fixtures quite old and in need of an update. The bathrooms are accessible; however the doors to the stall are louvered and close with a big hook leaving about a two-inch gap, which was a bit disconcerting.
Chic’s is a good place for family dining if the kids like seafood or sandwiches. There are no real options for the vegetarian who does not eat fish, except a few appetizers. While it is not really a romantic date-night restaurant, it is a great “come-as-you-are” place to eat. Dress is very casual and no reservations are needed. Most of the entrees range between $12.95 and $16.95 with some of the specialty combination platters being a bit more.
Diners can also consider the carry-out options for fish already prepared or to take home and cook there.
So if you are craving the beach and can’t leave home, head on down to Chic’s. It’s a little piece of seafood heaven.
Anne Chovey is a pseudonym for a Herald-Mail writer who reviews restaurants anonymously to avoid special treatment.