There must be something people like about Blackwall Hitch. Since it first opened in Annapolis in 2014, the restaurant chain owned by former Anne Arundel County councilman Derek Fink has cast its net in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, and Alexandria, Virginia. In May, a branch opened in the Inner Harbor; the dining room was packed with guests during a recent visit.

The food wavers from satisfactory one moment to downright bad the next, as variable as the sea. Maybe people like the preppy, nautical-themed decor, or the convenience of a new dining spot just across from the National Aquarium. Could it be the flaming crab dip that draws in crowds?

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Menu items sound good on paper but baffle in execution. The grilled peach and burrata salad promises to make the most of a killer peach season but arrived with about two slivers of peach and way too much red onion. We were excited to try the chilled watermelon gazpacho, but it was tepid and lacking in texture, like a watery, too-sweet salsa.

When you spend $30 or more for an entree, you get in your head certain ideas of what’s to come. It’s safe to bet that none of those visions include the blotchy brown and white hunk of rockfish, rolled into a nub and stuffed with crab, that $34 buys you at Blackwall Hitch.

Some view chicken as a litmus test for a kitchen’s skill. The red brick chicken, slapped clumsily on a cutting board, was drenched in honey sauce and looked as if it had been left out in the rain. A flavorless vegetable accompaniment didn’t do any favors, nor did the dry chimichurri sauce smeared on top.

There are some more competent dishes in the seafood department; finding them is like diving for pearls. Briny, wonderful Chincoteague oysters were plated on ice with an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink assortment of condiments, including a novelty bottle of Tabasco sauce.

Crab cakes boasted the exquisitely fresh Maryland crab meat to justify their $36 price tag, and were accompanied by some dynamite remoulade that could easily replace tartar sauce as the condiment of choice for crab. However, even that dish was nearly sabotaged by an uninspired rice-and-corn accompaniment. Another winner was Maryland crab soup, a rich and savory broth packed with vegetables and a smattering of crab meat.

Speaking of crab. Blackwall Hitch goes through quixotic lengths to dress up crab dip, serving it in a silver, crab-shaped dish with a fistful of seaweed (don’t eat it) and naan chips that look like ears. (Really, bread would be fine.) A food runner lights the dip on fire by your table, suggesting that the resurgence in tableside flambeing has reached peak madness. I’ve recently seen servers at higher-end and fast-casual places alike dutifully flambe or otherwise light on fire a dish, as if sent out to manufacture an Instagram-able moment. Like the trend of people riding scooters in traffic, it’s just a matter of time until someone gets hurt.

Service is hit or miss, flaky at the bar during one visit, solicitous and thorough during a follow-up meal in the dining room. At times, food appeared to have languished under a heat lamp before being presented, causing garnishes to wilt and stomachs to growl. A food runner handed warm dishes to us across the bar without so much as a “Careful, that’s hot.”

Blackwall Hitch’s website touts a different executive chef for each of its four locations, complete with a quote about his vision and approach to cuisine. In reality, menus appear to be identical at each of the outposts. Our two experiences at the Inner Harbor location did little to generate enthusiasm to try Blackwalls elsewhere. (A 2014 Baltimore Sun review of the Annapolis restaurant ran with the headline: ‘Site, grand; food ... bland.’)

During one visit, my dining companion told me she wanted dessert to wash out the bad taste of dinner. Options included chocolate truffles and an uninteresting s’mores cake plated with what appeared to be dots of Hershey’s chocolate syrup. A Smith Island cake suffered from dryness, even with all those layers of chocolate, and carried the aftertaste of something left in the fridge too long.

Decor might be called “shipwreck chic.” Suspended light fixtures call to mind bubbles; coils of rope and portal-shaped windows continue the watery theme. (The restaurant’s name is a type of knot.) As with the food, aspects feel not fully thought out. Lyrics from Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” adorn the back wall of the bar. You know, the ballad about the pathetic camaraderie among barflies, trapped in their fates? Sample lyric: “Well, I’m sure that I could be a movie star / If I could get out of this place.”

The city has plenty of eateries that serve moderately priced, tasty pub fare, as well as many reliable steakhouses and seafood restaurants well worth the expenditure. Blackwall Hitch isn’t one of them.

Blackwall Hitch

Rating: 1 star

Where: 700 E. Pratt St., Inner Harbor.

Contact: 443-759-7176. theblackwallhitch.com.

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Open: Open daily for lunch and dinner and for brunch and dinner on Sundays.

Prices: Appetizers $14-$19; entrees $24 to $38.

Food: New American

Noise/TVs: No televisions in main dining room; conversation is easy.

Service: Hit or miss.

Parking: Discounted parking at Pier V Parking Garage is available

Special diets: Can be accommodated.

Reservation policy: Accepts reservations.

Handicap accessible: Yes

[Key: Superlative: 5 stars; Excellent: 4 stars; Very good: 3 stars; Good: 2 stars; Promising: 1 star.]

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