- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Restaurants may come and go, but Captain John’s Crab House & Marina definitely won’t fall into the latter category as the Cobb Island restaurant celebrates its 50th anniversary.
Nestled on Neale Sound, the restaurant continues to serve quality seafood and stand out despite the crowd of seafood eateries that make up Southern Maryland.
A weekday visit for lunch confirmed that.
Unfortunately the restaurant did not have any rockfish on this particular day.
“We try to keep our rockfish fresh. We do very little freezing of our rockfish, so if there’s a commercial season going on, there’s a chance we’re going to have it,” said Skip Yates, 54, who co-owns the restaurant with his father, Jack. “It’s on the menu quite a bit, but when the season goes out, we don’t like to freeze too much of it. We like to keep that as fresh as possible because that’s the signature fish of Maryland.”
No worries. I opted instead for the fried flounder sandwich ($9.99), and my first foray into eating a flattie was a good one, as a hand-sized portion of fish came with two slices of white bread along with tomato and lettuce, which I had requested. The fish was light, flaky, perfectly cooked and not overwhelmed by oil. Captain John’s also uses zero trans fat oil for all its fried seafood.
Yates said the flounder is his favorite dish along with “any of the grilled items. Scallops and the shrimp I really love, or the grilled chicken.”
Other sandwich options included a homemade pulled pork ($5.99), meatball sub ($6.99), fried oyster ($8.99) or crabcake ($11.99).
“Your premium crabcake is by far the best item on the menu,” Skip Yates said. “Just [because of] the fact that we use the bigger lumps and very little filling.”
I also ordered from the salad bar, which came with a choice of 27 items and six dressings. The salad bar began with a small portable unit purchased from a Roy Rogers restaurant but grew into a full-size salad bar when the restaurant bought a custom salad bar station after it underwent renovations in the late 1990s.
The menu is divided into 13 categories including appetizers, soups and salads ($2.99-$7.99) and featuring Captain John’s famous bean soup ($2.99 a cup; $4.99 a bowl), steam room ($6.99-$39.99), shore dinners, charbroiled grill and meals on the light side.
Captain John’s also offers an raw bar of oysters on the half shell ($8.99 for six; $12.99 for a dozen).
As to be expected, 57 of 82 items are seafood-based, including the original crabcakes ($23.99) and a grilled Norwegian salmon ($15.99), which is lightly seasoned with brown sugar and bourbon.
Yates said he gets his seafood from local watermen whenever possible and gets his crabs and soft crabs local from St. Mary’s County and Virginia watermen.
The restaurant offers all-you-can eat specials for steamed shrimp ($21.99) and steamed shrimp and crab legs ($49.99), based on availability.
On Wednesday night from 5-8 p.m. features a seafood buffet for $18.95 per person ($9.95 for children younger than 11 and free for children younger than 3).
The restaurant also has a marina where boaters can come for dinner or berth by the week, month or year.
The restaurant was established in 1963 by Capt. John Shymansky (“Pretty much anyone who had a boat back then was called captain,” Yates said). Yates’ parents later owned the restaurant while Yates cleaned boats at the marina washed dishes, cleaned tables and worked at a seafood market before working at the restaurant.
“I did a little bit here and there,” he said, “just about anything that needed to be done.”
He became co-owner of the restaurant when his mother died in 2009, but he said there’s no question of who’s in charge.
“Dad owns half, but that doesn’t make any difference,” he said. “He’s 100 percent in charge.”
Shymansky’s restaurant, which is almost right across the street, is owned by a relative.
“It’s fine,” Yates said of the friendly competition. “We have a good working relationship.”
While the restaurant has thrived over the years, Yates said rising costs have made things difficult.
“But just like everything else, wholesale prices are out of sight, so it’s kind of hard. Market prices of everything are up. Everything you deal with is up. It’s hard to transfer all those increases to your customers without alienating a bunch of people when your prices go up.”
But he’s been able to not only survive but thrive thanks in large part to his commitment to customer service.
“That’s one thing you’ve got to have, and quality seafood,” he said. “When I go out for dinner and every time I have a bad experience I bring it back to [my staff] and say, ‘Look, we don’t want that happening here.’ I’m always pushing my servers to give excellent service.”