I love the sand and sea, but I don’t like to eat beach. Yet, there I was at C&S Chowder House trying to stomach gritty-beyond-edible steamed clams that were part of a $50 lobster dinner called the Down East Feast.
The debacle of the Down East Feast was the breaking point after a slew of misshapen fish and seafood dishes at the restaurant, which opened this fall a few doors down from the Peach & the Porkchop in Roswell’s Sweet Apple Village Shopping Center. Disappointments included: baked Blue Point oysters finished with an off-putting chemical-tasting butter; errant crab shell amid a garnish of shredded crab meat that curtailed further enjoyment of nicely pan-crisped blue cod; a one-dimensional bowl of steamed Chilean sea bass swimming in what tasted like thinned soy sauce; and a $28 seared diver scallop entrée that brought four scallops, salty and seared only on one side.
Sister restaurant to Hugo’s Oyster Bar, also in Roswell, and C&S Seafood and Oyster Bar in Vinings, C&S Chowder House bills itself as a New England seafood spot. I should have learned from an earlier visit that chowder is where’s it’s at.
Here, you’ll find three clam chowder styles — New England, Manhattan and Rhode Island — as well as a potato and corn version that contains both cream and chicken broth. The New England is superb: Cream doesn’t dominate, it’s not excessively heavy or thick, and it marries wonderfully with the fresh clam meat. The thinner, tomato-based Manhattan is smoky in a good way. The Rhode Island, also cream-free and dubbed “light,” is the dieter’s choice that’s rich enough with clam broth it doesn’t feel like a diet at all.
Go for the New England. It really does rival some of the best I’ve had. It would not be a surprise if the restaurant ends up doing brisk business selling its chowders, which are available to take home by the pint and quart. (C&S in Vinings also sells the New England and Manhattan clam chowders to take home.)
Clam chowder is the menu item that most pleasantly aligns with C&S’ New England inspirations. The ship-and-ocean feel abounds. Whitewashed wood floors provide a weathered look. Wood is everywhere, and fabric of red, white and blue plaid decorates bar stools and banquette seating. Strings of clam shells adorn the bar and, along with starfish shells, are even used as the medium for a striking piece of artwork — an American flag — that hangs in the rear. The only thing missing is the wharf for taking an after-dinner stroll.
The half-dozen varieties of raw oysters — all from the East Coast — were a highlight, particularly the Pokomoke River, out of Maryland, that were meaty enough to cut with a knife, mild, and with a slightly muddy finish. The mignonette was better than average, and the mini metal pail of packaged saltines was a nice touch.
Hanging out at the bar, slurping oysters and washing them down with something crisp — a pint of local Scofflaw Basement IPA, a glass of any number of bubbles or perhaps the Clark & Schwenk Mule, named after C&S co-owners Rich Clark and Jon Schwenk, and made with Old Fourth Ward vodka and house ginger beer — would make for a fine time.
Among other starters, calamari was nicely breaded, light and delicate, and drizzled with a thin lemon aioli, not wanting for the accompanying marinara for dipping. As for salads, the Caesar was tossed in a pasty dressing; stick with the C&S chopped salad, though be warned that there is some spicy cherry pepper in that mélange.
A warning is something that I, and probably those with nut allergies, would appreciate when ordering the side dish of crab and basmati rice. There are peanuts in it. That’s not stated on the menu, nor was there a verbal heads-up.
The menu also was misleading about sides that came with lobster and king crab dinners. Apparently, the Down East Feast was the only one not to come with fries and slaw, although those were delivered to our table when we pointed out the verbiage on the menu. The restaurant since has changed; fries and slaw now accompany all lobster dinners.
That’s great, but C&S also might want to reconsider both the clarified butter it offers with the lobster and the metal butter warmer itself. The butter tasted metallic, and it doesn’t remain warm, because the distance between the butter bowl and the candle is too great to supply any heat. The display looks good, but, as it stands, the butter does the steamed sea creature a disservice.
When it comes to service, the staff is pleasant and eager. One server, his first day out of training, muscled through the night; we all learned a lot that evening. Another oversold the sea bass dish (it might be a popular order, and is certainly striking in presentation — white as pearl fish with wilted green spinach peeking out from underneath and surrounded by black soy sauce — but taste-wise it is oceans away from rave-worthy), pushed the fruits de mer (Petite Plateaux $68, Grande Plateaux $185), and tried to peddle a second cocktail on one of my dining partners three times, including when we were far into entrées. Stop, already.
A sweet ending, ironically, would be the sour cream cheesecake, satisfaction coming from the slight tang instead of the typical sugared-up versions. Ordering the Northeastern Profiteroles With Chocolate Fondue for Two brings you back to the same problem as that lobster dinner: a whole lot of fanfare and little more. The intention of the shared dessert is that guests dip cream-filled pastries and fresh berries into the melted chocolate. Yet, the chocolate cannot stay warm from the heat of a candle that, again, comes nowhere near to reaching the bowl.
But, hey, C&S calls itself a chowder house. It does get chowder right.
C&S Chowder House
12040 Etris Road, Roswell. Dinner, 4-10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 4-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; brunch, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays. 470-321-5077, candschowderhouse.com.