Scuttlebutt: Elliewood's Crab is back

The Crab has had it with hibernating. As of last Friday, the newest eatery on Elliewood Avenue is back in action, and just in time for Spring-­ not to mention crab season.

Why did this funky seafood house bury its head in the sand in the first place only a few months after opening?

With only 20 indoor seats (vs. 120 outdoor) The Crab was less well equipped than most to weather the winter. Most people don't tend to associate fried clams and crab cakes with picnic tables and freezing rain. No surprise, then, that slow business forced the owners to close the restaurant after Thanksgiving and hunker down in wait for warmer temperatures.

But the wait turned out to be lot longer than expected. "We wanted to re-open for New Year's, on February 1, for Valentine's Day... but the weather wasn't cooperating," says Mike Norris, the new on-site owner who is replacing former partner Anthony Freeman. "We're ready to shake off last year and make it our learning curve-­ a very steep learning curve," he adds.

We know Norris was entertained by all the rumors, but what lessons did he learn during The Crab's three-month hiatus? Is The Crab destined to be as seasonal as its eponym?

"Next winter, we're going to do a better job of enclosing and heating the porch," Norris says.

Other improvements come in the form of new palm trees for the outdoor sand patch and a new French chef. Trained in New York and D.C., Sebastian-­ apparently he's good enough to make it with just one name– will add a gourmet touch to food presentation, and he'll also make all of the desserts and sauces. The Crab is operating with a limited menu until April 15, when Chesapeake blues will entice us all out of hibernation.

  All in the family ­ Schnitzelhouse comes home

 When we heard that Ed and Claire Gisler were selling Fontaine Avenue's most "historic" Swiss and German eatery, the Schnitzelhouse, we assumed it was auf wiedersehen for good.

But bratwurst lovers and long-time regulars can breathe a sigh of relief. Instead of selling to the highest bidder and skipping town, the Gislers picked their successor very carefully. And in this case, the successor is actually a predecesso-­ he's a member of Schnitzelhouse's founding family.

Hans Gerstl Jr. is the son of Hans and Maria Gerstl, the German-Slovakian couple who opened the Schnitzelhouse back in 1970. Last week, Hans Jr. bought the restaurant from the Gislers, who have run it since 1980. It's not clear yet what sort of plans Hans Jr. has for the place-­ will he give the decor and the menu an upbeat, new millennium twist, or stay faithful to his roots? Only time will tell.

As for the Gislers, they're ready for retirement– travel, more time with family-­ but are also sad to leave their Schnitzelhouse family. "We'll really miss our loyal customers," Claire told Dish. "We watched most of their kids grow up. This place is like home to us."


Blackstone's coffee TRAIL

With new coffee houses sprouting up all around town, the closure of six-year-old Blackstone's Coffee Co. is something of a mystery.

Here's what we know: The Albemarle Square café owned by attorney Robert Kantas closed last month, and the space is advertised "for lease."

Here's what we don't know: why.

When Kantas didn't return our calls, we went snooping. Local roasters Shenandoah Joe's, who supplied all of Blackstone's beans, told us that the business had "several interested buyers" but also had "trouble with the landlord," who refused to renew the lease. A call to Dunbarton Properties in Richmond, managers of Albemarle Square, failed to illuminate.

"We refer you to Mr. Kantas for all inquiries," said an official voice. And so the plot thins before it's had a chance to thicken. We'll let you know if we hear from Kantas– but don't hold your breath.