Mama’s on the Half Shell is obviously popular—on a summer week night, a half dozen sidewalk tables were all taken, and we had to wait 20 minutes for a table in a very crowded, very “straight” bar. Inside, Mama’s oozes with atmosphere and feels like the joint where your grandparents ventured out for a drink (actually, it opened in 2003 with the objective of offering classic Baltimore seafood dishes!). There’s a bar with adjacent small dining area on the first floor with a larger (quieter yet charming) dining room on the second floor where we ended up being seated with our friends JT and Jerry.

The menu offers a lot of reasonably priced interesting choices: seafood soups ($6), a dozen plus appetizers ($5-14), salads ($6-13), eighteen sandwiches that include fries (mostly $8-14), and classic seafood and beef filet entrees ($15-30). All this made it tough to decide what to order. We chose to share a couple of appetizers: seafood skins ($10—seafood stuffed potato skins) and “smoked fish dip” ($7). For the main course, Marty went for a single crab cake ($16), John for the “oyster Rockefeller salad” ($10), JT with the “lobster roll” sandwich ($23) and Jerry with the “fish & chips” ($15).

The seafood skins overflowing with shrimp, scallops, and crab under a mix of melted cheddar and sour cream was delicious and earned an instant thumbs-up! By contrast, the smoked seafood dip was a pureed boring paste that was left half untouched. When the entrees arrived, Jerry’s fish and chips was the visual star of the table—a huge piece of fried cod rested on a bed of freshly made deep fried potato chips. While the cod was moist and delicious, the outer crust was so oily that Jerry cut it off and left it un-eaten; some of the chips also proved too oily and disappointing. Marty’s crab cake was tasty without a lot of filler, but his fries looked pale and under-cooked while his side cucumber salad was swamped in a thin sour cream sauce with little taste. JT was pleased with his lobster roll (though he would have preferred less mayo); John felt that the quantity of lobster for $23 seemed skimpy and that JT’s fries also were under-cooked. John’s salad had four good-sized oysters in a tasty fried crust sitting on a bed of baby spinach with red onion and fennel; while the special Pernod dressing was disappointingly blah, he found that the chipotle lime sauce from Jerry’s fish (which was too spicy for our friend) provided the added punch that the salad needed.

Mama’s excellent service, charming faux historic atmosphere, and menu with interesting and reasonably priced options explains its obvious popularity. For us, the memory of those awesome seafood skins washed down with a cold beer may motivate us to overlook the obstacles of finding parking in Canton, standing around waiting for a table, and our disappointments with some of the food.

DETAILS: Mama’s on the Half Shell (Canton); 2901 O’Donnell St. 410.276.3160. Open for lunch and dinner 7 days, 11am-midnight. Sunday brunch, full bar, vegetarian options, no reservations, street parking. MamasMD.com/MamasSite.

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