Captain James Landing is a restaurant that tries to be all things to all people, and especially to those who want to eat in a restaurant that looks like an ocean liner.
You've seen it a thousand times on your way to some trendier restaurant in Canton: the ship -- no, half a ship; the owners ran out of room to build the stern -- that sits on the corner of Boston and Aliceanna streets, just a parking lot away from the water.
Captain James is a seafood restaurant (no surprise there), but it also serves breakfast 24 hours a day; offers Greek and Italian specialties at lunch; and has pizza, submarines and sandwiches. There's a children's menu. The owners, who built it 15 years ago -- and I mean built it, as in worked on the construction themselves -- are Greek, five brothers headed by Nick Tserkis.
Why an ocean liner -- or rather half an ocean liner? Well, Captain James Landing is a seafood restaurant, isn't it? As Ed Gunts, The Sun's architecture critic, pointed out when the restaurant opened in 1985, it's the same concept as building a hot dog stand in the shape of a hot dog.
Step into Captain James' main dining room, and you may find yourself rocking gently with the motion of the waves, so real is the illusion. The windows are large portholes, and the dining room is decorated with mounted fish and other nautical appointments. The waiters wear stewards' uniforms. (The service is very good, by the way, in spite of the fact that 15 percent is added to the check automatically, so you're less likely to reward good service with a big tip.)
When you look at the menu, you realize that this is a Baltimore seafood restaurant of another era, hon. The menu is filled with crab imperial, stuffed flounder and fried seafood platters. You won't find any trendy dishes like sushi-grade tuna served rare and Chilean sea bass baked with arugula and sun-dried tomatoes.
The house wine doesn't have a name beyond chablis, rose, white zinfandel or burgundy.
And when summer comes and you crave hard shells, head across the street and into the restaurant's parking lot, where steamed crabs are sold to be eaten at picnic tables overlooking the water.
As for the dining room proper, the food has its ups and downs. Definitely up are oysters on the half shell, icy cold and briny sweet, with a peppery cocktail sauce to dip them in.
Stuffed mushroom caps turn out to be a large mound of lump imperial crab that completely hides the small mushroom caps underneath it. But you won't hear any complaints about that.
The kitchen wisely chops up the clams for its clams casino, touted as "our own famous recipe," so you also won't hear any complaints about clams that have the texture of pencil erasers. The chopped clam may get lost among the green pepper, bacon, onions and pimentos, but you won't be disappointed in the flavors.
Of our appetizers, only the crab soup fell short, with its overcooked vegetables, mediocre seasoning and small amount of crab.
The soup came as part of the Captain James Special for $24.95, which consisted of soup and a salad, a glass of wine -- you choose red or white -- filet mignon, stuffed shrimp and a vegetable. With your salad, ask for the house dressing, a vinaigrette with feta cheese. It's the only one made on the premises, our waiter told us. Vegetables are forgettable, although there was a choice of broccoli and zucchini as well as potatoes.
The kitchen does a perfectly respectable steak, two nice-sized filets cooked as ordered. And the crab imperial stuffing on the two large shrimp is generous. But a traditional stuffed flounder, perfectly fresh but overcooked by today's standards, was less successful.
We were a little more adventuresome in our choice of shrimp and scallops Provencal, which turned out to have an ocean of garlicky but good cream sauce, not a tomato-based sauce as you might expect from the name. In general, I would stick to shellfish if I ate at Captain James again.
No need to save room for dessert. Of the two that are made on the premises, the rice pudding is only serviceable and the baklava, which could have been out of this world, was warm but rubbery, as though it had been reheated in a microwave.
CAPTAIN JAMES LANDING
Atmosphere: ** 1/2
Where: 2127 Boston St.
Hours: Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
Prices: Appetizers, $5.95-$8.95; main courses, $9.95-$36.95
Rating system: Outstanding: ****; Good: ***; Fair or uneven: **; Poor: *