Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller eating Soft Shell Crabs
Last year in May, wine guru and Maryland resident Robert J. Parker tweeted: “Maryland’s greatest culinary delicacy – blue channel soft-shelled crabs are starting to arrive … lightly floured and sautéed in butter.” Maryland – with the large Chesapeake Bay – is indeed blessed with Blue Crabs which came in different forms, when you eat them at a Crab Shack.
Bluecrab.info: “My definition of a crab house is any restaurant that serves hot steamed Maryland-style hard shell crabs. You know that you're in a crab house as soon as you walk through the door, the smell of steamed crabs is in the air and you hear the sound of wooden mallets banging against crab and table as hungry diners crack into the succulent claws. As you look around you see paper-covered tables with trays of cooked bright orange crabs, mounds of discarded shells, pitchers of ice cold beer, shakers of Old Bay seafood seasoning, and bottles of apple cider vinegar. And, yes, there's the occasional basket of piping hot shell-on spiced shrimp! Ah, the memories... there's nothing quite like the atmosphere of a genuine Chesapeake Bay crab house."
Crab Shacks in the Washington Area
Here are my favorites in or close to the Washington DC area:
Washington DC City Area
The Dancing Crab - 4611 Wisconsin Ave, NW, Washington, DC (202) 244-1882. The family owned restaurant is a classic.
Bethesda Crab House - 4958 Bethesda Ave, Bethesda, Maryland (301) 652-3382. There's a large outdoor patio available weather permitting.
Ernie's Original Crab House - 1743 King Street Alexandria, Virginia. (703) 836-0046. Located in the heart of Old Town Alexandria. Offers traditional Chesapeake Bay seafood dishes including steamed crabs.
The Quarterdeck - 1200 Fort Myer Drive, Arlington, VA 22209, (703) 528-2722, Open Daily 11:30a.m. - 2a.m. A fixture of the Fort Meyer Heights neighborhood for over 30 years providing a relaxed atmosphere perfect for family dining.
Maine Avenue Seafood Market: You can pick up live crabs to steam at home or buy some already steamed at the Washington DC seafood market on Maine Avenue at the Potomac River. It is a fascinating place. 1100 Maine Ave.
Outside Washington DC City Area
Jimmy Cantler's: Be prepared for long waits on the weekends, but the tranquil riverside setting in Annapolis is worth it. About 45 minutes from Washington DC. 458 Forest Beach Rd., Annapolis.
Tim’s Rivershore Restaurant and Crabhouse: a favorite place for Harley riders and RocknRoll lovers on the western shores of the Potomac, about 1 hour south of Washington DC. 1510 Cherryhill Road, Dumfries
Captain Billy’s Crab House - 11495 Popes Creek Rd, Newburg, MD About 1 ½ hours from Washington DC on the Potomoc eastern shore.
Visiter: “And if you are looking for a Maryland crab experience, this is your place. Everyone is dressed down. There is nothing fancy. Less than 5 minutes after you order, your food is hot and ret' ta' go. You get a plastic bucket, a laminated menu and the best dang crabs MD has to offer. You are presented with only male crabs (unless you ask for a mix) Tip: Female Crabmeat is sweeter. Your drinks will be refilled, your crabs will be plentiful.”
Happy Harbor - 533 Deale Road, Deale, MD 20751, (410) 867-0949. A little dive located on the water, bar on one side, restaurant on the other. About 1 hour drive from Washington DC, on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay.
Stoney’s – 3 locations in Calvert County, Maryland: Broomes Island, Kingfisher’s and Solomons Pier. About 1 ½ hours from Washington DC on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. Famous for its crab cakes.
Stoney’s: “We have since grown to a family of three restaurants and continue to serve the best that the Washington D.C. area has to offer. Our menus do not stop with crab cakes but also offer a variety of steaks, seafoods, appetizers, and salads. Each location offers stunning views of the Chesapeake Bay and whether you are looking for an upscale dinner or a casual happy hour, you will find that Stoney’s is the place to go.
Beyond Bay Bridge
These are all places where you have to cross the Chesapeake Bay. The Bay Bridge is about 1 hour drive from Washington DC.
Harris Crab House & Seafood Restaurant - 433 N Kent Narrows Way Grasonville, MD 21638 (410) 827-9500. Well worth the drive in Grasonville, overlooking the Kent Narrows
Fisherman's Crab Deck - 3032 Kent Narrow Way S Grasonville, MD 21638 (410) 827-6666. Also in Grasonville.
Waterman’s Crab House - Rock Hall. 10 nautical miles north of the Bay Bridge but 11/2 hours by car in weekend traffic.
Visitor: “Waterman's has been around for a long time, recently having expanded (again) to an indoor, rather plain restaurant seating perhaps a 100 or so and two enormous outdoor wooden decks with a sit down 20 seat bar and bandstand across from it, flanked on either side by the decks which are directly over the water.”
Visitor: “This afternoon, eighty degrees and sunny with only a few puffy clouds in the sky, both decks were mobbed with several hundred middle aged, full bellied, Rolex wristed crab eaters often accompanied with partners with big hair and a lot of gold. The six member band crooned Wilson Pickett, James Brown and a bit of Lloyd Price while mallets and pitchers were hammered and quaffed repeatedly. Almost every brown paper topped picnic table had a plastic garbage can at the side of it. It seemed everyone was eating crabs. This is as close to Heaven as I have ever felt in the state of Maryland.”
Visitor: “We liked Waterman's-a LOT! I would take this over Cantler's or Stoney's in a heartbeat! The setting is just truly fantastic. While not great crab cakes and a bit more expensive than other places on the Eastern Shore, this is a real find. I would suggest that Chesapeake Living magazine may be right: this may be my favorite crab house in Maryland. I would go elsewhere for crab cakes (Narrows) and perhaps for dinner (Suicide Bridge, Jerry's in Lanham). But for hard shells and to sit out on an incredibly scenic deck with a bit of Smokey Robinson in the background while hammering over the water, this IS what the Good Life is all about!”
Crab Claw in St. Michael's
Pictures: Crab Claw in St. Michaels
Schooners on the Creek in Oxford
Suicide Bridge - 6304 Suicide Bridge Rd Hurlock, MD 21643 (410) 943-4689 11:00 am – 10:00 pm. Waterfront dining overlooking Cabin Creek. In the Easton/Cambridge area.
Maryland Blue Crabs
The blue crab is a crustacean found in the waters of the western Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Coast of Central America and the Gulf of Mexico. Chesapeake Bay Blue Crabs undergo a seasonal migration; after mating, the female crab travels to the southern portion of the Chesapeake, fertilizing her eggs with sperm stored up from the last mating months or almost a year later. In November or December, the female crab releases her eggs. The crabs hatch in a larval form and float in the mouth of the bay for four to five weeks, then the juvenile crabs make their way back up into the bay.
Four Ways to Eat Chesapeake Blue Crabs
Hard Shell Blue Crabs
Blue crabs are most often eaten in the hard shell. Steaming them in large pots with water, vinegar and seasoning is the norm on the East coast. You need the whole experience: the smell of steamed crabs in the air, a pile of large steamed blue crabs covered with Old Bay Seasoning, ready to be cracked with wooden mallets, accompanied by corn on the cob, plus a roll of paper towels and a metal bucket for tossing the empty shells.
Picture: Hard Shell Blue Crabs
Soft Shell Crabs
The Chesapeake Bay is famous for its soft-shell blue crabs. As crabs grow larger, their shells cannot expand, so they molt the exteriors and have a soft covering for a matter of days when they are vulnerable and considered usable. Crabs caught just after molting are prepared as soft shell crabs: first cutting out the gills, face, and guts; the crab is then battered in flour, egg, and seasoning, then fried in oil until crispy. The entire crab is consumed, legs and all.
Picture: Soft Shell Crab
Crab cakes is another delicacy. Crab Cakes are basically Hamburgers made out of crab meat. We ate it recently as a starter with tomatoes and avocado on the side.
Picture: Maryland Crab Cake
Wine and Crab Cakes: Amy Brandwein from Casa Nonna and Chris Clime from PassionFish win the 6th Annual Crab Cake Competition in Washington DC, USA
Maryland Crab Soup
Usually I start my crab dinner with a Maryland Crab Soup. This is a kind of an Italian Minestrone with crab meat.
Pictures: Annette Schiller, Ombiasy Wine Tours, eating Maryland Crab Soup
Maryland Crabs and Wine
Schiller's World of Seafood
Blue crabs are iconic in Maryland. Few food and wine aficiniados, however, would point to premium wines, when talking about Maryland; instead, Maryland has the reputation of being a mediocre wine producer. But Maryland winemakers are very successfully changing that. Increasingly, winemakers in Maryland are moving away from fruit wines and non-European grape varieties that have long plagued the East Coast to produce wines that can compete with the best wines in the world. As Drew Baker of the brand-new Old Westminster Winery explained to Frank Morgan, a popular wine blogger, “Maryland has great potential and I believe that the quality bar is rising quickly. Soon, poorly made wines will be the exception in an otherwise great region.” Old Westminster Winery, led by the three siblings Drew, Lisa, and Ashli, who manage the vineyard, winemaking, and marketing, respectively, has not yet released any wine, but is already generating a buzz. Other promising newcomers include Black Ankle, Slack, Sugar Loaf Mountain and Port of Leonardtown. Add to that the Maryland classics Boordy, Basignani and Elk Run, which are in the process of changing gears.
Maryland’s modern wine history dates to the 1970s, but grapes have been planted in the area since the 17th century. Most of Maryland’s 60 plus wineries are in the Piedmont Plateau in central Maryland, but grapes also thrive in the Eastern Shore, Southern Plain, and Western Mountains: (1) A majority of the state’ vineyards are planted in Piedmont Plateau in central Maryland. (2) The Chesapeake Bay has always been among my favorite regions, but the Eastern Shore is also a fantastic growing region. The soil is sandy and well-drained, and the climate is moderated/protected by the water, perfect for warm days and cool nights. (3) In the Southern Plain in southern Maryland it can get rather hot. And stay hot during the night. Barbera, Sangiovese, and Chardonnay dominate. (4) Western Maryland is mountainous, and while there are only two wineries, there is a number of vineyards.
I have written extensively about a number of Maryland wineries, see:
At the Fifth Annual Drink Local Wine Conference in Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Touring Wine Country Maryland, USA
Grand Tasting of Maryland Wines and Twitter Taste-off - Drink Local Wine Conference 2013 in Maryland, USA
Chef Spike Gjerde's Farm-to-Table Food of Woodberry Kitchen and Sarah O’Herron's and Ed Boyce's Premium Organic Wines of Black Ankle Vineyards, Maryland, USA
This posting is part of the Schiller’s favorites series. Here is a full list of all Schiller’s favorites postings so far.
Schiller’s Favorite Crab Houses in the Washington DC Region, USA
Schiller’s Favorite Wine Bars in Charleston, South Carolina, USA
Schiller’s Favorite Wine Bars in Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Schiller’s Favorites from the VDP Grosses Gewaechs – Grand Cru – Presentation at Kloster Eberbach, 2012, Germany
Schiller’s Favorite Wine Bars in New York City, USA
Schiller’s Favorite Wine Bars and Other Wine Spots in Vienna, Austria
Schiller’s Favorite Wine Bars in San Francisco, USA
Schiller's Favorite Wine Bars in Bordeaux (City), France
Schiller's Favorite Wine Bars in Budapest, Hungary
Schiller’s 12 Favorite Restaurants of Antananarivo, the Capital of Madagascar
Schiller's Favorite Apple Wine Taverns in Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Schiller’s Favorite Wine Taverns in Mainz, Germany
Schiller's Favorite Wine Bars and Other Places Where You Can Have a Glass of Wine in Healdsburg, California