Best Crab Baltimore

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Edited by Jane Marion With Suzanne Loudermilk, Mike Unger, and Lydia Wolever PHOTOGRAPHY BY SCOTT SUCHMAN Spot Illustrations by Jason Schneider Opening Spread: Styled by Janelle Erlichman Diamond. Hair and makeup: Brian Oliver and model: Kyler Garner, both from T.H.E. The Artist Agency. Filmed on location at Schultz’s Crab House.

Best Crab Baltimore

“How will I love you?” Elizabeth Barrett Browning once asked. When it comes to Maryland crab, we can hardly count the ways—too many. But let’s try to describe our enthusiasm. Every state has its point of pride, from Maine blueberries to Idaho potatoes. Here in the Mid-Atlantic, Maryland is for crab lovers. With no disrespect to oysters and rockfish, the blue crab reigns as the undisputed king of the Chesapeake Bay. And while they can be found as far north as Novia Scotia and as far south as Uruguay, one-third of our nation’s blue crab harvest comes from our local waters.

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In Maryland, there are two seasons—crab season (which is May through November) and waiting for crab season. The latter occurs in the colder months when the crabs sink to the bottom of the bay and hibernate until winter. As the thermostat rises, the crustaceans rise with the warmer waters and swim into the crab traps, when they’re as delicate and fat as they come—not to mention salty-sweet and buttery in a way that’s unique to our brackish waters. . Sure, you might travel to Birmingham or Boise and find “Baltimore-style” or “Maryland-style” crab cakes on the menu, but there’s no truth to that advertising. Ours is the best and we’re happy to throw down the gauntlet—make that the mallet—to anyone who argues otherwise. Unlike other blue crab states—namely North Carolina, Texas, and Louisiana—where the hard shells are often boiled, we steam our bay beauts, which means they stay mustardy and moist, and of course there’s our iconic home state brand of crab spice seasoning, Old Bay.

And while it may seem too obvious, it must be said that there’s only one place to eat authentic Maryland crab—and that’s smack dab in the Old Line State, where an almost religious fervor surrounds this seafood. We have a bit of bad news on that front: Because of the demand for this seasonal seafood, along with recurring visa issues for crab pickers, it’s not always possible to get actual Maryland crab. In fact, most seafood houses—at least in season—supplement their local catch with other domestic crabs, while the meat may come from as far away as Asia. That said, other blues make for an acceptable alternative, since so many places don’t serve Maryland crab. Your best bet? Always ask where the crabmeat comes from.

Crabs have long been an important local protein along the Chesapeake. As early as 1,200 B.C., these crustaceans were an important food source and continued to be consumed until the 17th century, when Native Americans and early colonists enjoyed eating them. Although crab shells are fragile and fragile, sites across the estuary have found their archaeological remains, from places such as the homestead of Mt. Vernon by George Washington to Sukeek’s Cabin, a 19th-century African-American residence in Calvert County.

Given this history, it’s safe to say that our passion for crabs runs deep in our DNA—and this time of year the passion kicks in full force. And we don’t just limit ourselves to crab cakes, hard shells, or soup. We use crab everywhere: folded; stuffed into dumplings; sprinkled over pretzels, waffles, and deviled eggs; piled high on chicken cheesesteaks—you name it. You can find crabs in their various incarnations at local seafood shacks, fine-dining dens, pizza parlors, food trucks, food halls, and malls—and even High’s gas stations.

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Below, find your fix, however you want to eat them. Then get ready to celebrate the return of blue crabs to a paper-wrapped table near you—and with it, one of Maryland’s most tried-and-true traditions.

Scenes from The Choptank: the aftermath of a crab feast; grapefruit and orange crushes; crispy crab fritters with rémoulade and pickled vegetables; the historic entrance.

When we walked into this remote storefront in a Carroll County strip mall, we couldn’t help but notice the bags of carryout orders behind the counter. Steamed crab and seafood takeout is big business here. There is also eat-in service, but we didn’t see the dining room right away. Noticing our confusion as we entered the bar, a friendly cashier directed us to a solid door that opened into a connecting room with about 10 tables. It’s an empty but cheerful space with a mural of docked boats and pictures of crab house scenes. Depending on the time of year, the cooked-to-order crabs are a mix of Maryland, Virginia, and Louisiana hard shells dusted with the kitchen’s own seasoning. And the restaurant’s crab expertise is evident. After all, owner Dan Schuman, who runs the crab house with his brother Mike, has been in the business since 1971, spending time at a Randallstown seafood market before opening Captain Dan’s in 2003. Simply put, crabs are amazing.

People love to crack crabs while sitting near the water, but Captain James takes that a step further by offering guests the chance to eat crabs near the water and on a boat. Okay, it’s not an actual boat, but a boat-shaped restaurant with an adjacent crab house that features a large deck on the water between Canton and Fells Point. That central location no doubt contributes to the restaurant’s popularity, but the place won’t stick around for long if it doesn’t also deliver quality. When we visited on a spring Friday evening, we found both the food and service to be stellar. The view comes with a price tag: These are among the most expensive crabs we’ve encountered, from $100 for a dozen mediums to $155 for jumbos (they’re only sold by the half-dozen or dozen). They are well seasoned and well cooked with sweet meat. Corn on the cob, a cold pitcher of beer, and an order of delicious boardwalk fries rounded out our meal, which was as good as the view of Patapsco.

Maryland Crabs: Where & How To Eat Them

Crab Takes: Captain James Crab House is one of the last places to offer all-you-can-eat crab in the city (with a two-hour dining limit), available Monday through Thursday, from 4 to 9 p.m.

Picking freshly steamed crabs at the old-school Costas Inn in Dundalk; Alfresco dining and live music at The Choptank.

At first glance, a casual visitor might not realize that The Choptank is a place to eat steamed crabs. The outdoor area has a happy-hour vibe, and the cocktails flow faster than the nearby harbor waters. But once you sit down and focus on the menu, you realize that this is a crab house, after all. Before the steamed shells arrive, your table is covered with brown paper and the proper tools appear—mallet, knife, and even a shell cracker (for those more adept at eating lobster). While we waited for the crabs to steam (from Louisiana on our visit and local when available), we dug into a well-deserved mound of seafood nachos filled with grilled fish, shrimp, and lump crab. Our half dozen larges, coated with J.O. seasoning, are almost plump specimens, but one is a light, so the kitchen tossed in an extra crab.

If your crabs here taste like some of the freshest shellfish you’ve ever had, that’s because they may literally be out of water. Owner Tony Conrad—a triple-threat waterman, restaurateur, and entrepreneur (who recently expanded into Harford County)—probably got off his boat after a morning of catching crustaceans in the bay. There are so many reasons to come here, from the free bucket of popcorn to whet your appetite to the surprisingly tasty salads (which is not where crab houses usually shine) to the delicious sweets (strawberry shortcake, tiramisu) or the refreshing cantaloupe crushes. But let’s digress. It’s really all about the reliably delicious Maryland crabs, hot, heavy, coated in the restaurant’s own seafood blend, and proudly piled on a plastic tray.

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Crab Takes: In a DIY mood? Conrad’s also has its own seafood market in Parkville, where you can buy live crabs to steam at home. While you’re there, grab a house-made crabby pretzel or a pound of spicy steamed shrimp to-go.

Since 1971, Costas has been a fixture on the local crab circuit and is, in many ways, a crossroads of Baltimore, hosting everyone from families just leaving a church service to dock workers. which takes half a dozen hard shells after their transition to the couple enjoying a date night. The diner-like menu, too, showcases a mix of cuisines that have settled on the east side of the city—things like Italian lasagna, Greek gyros, and, you guessed it, a whole host of dishes featuring crab. Everywhere you look, there are vintage photos of Lexington Market and the Preakness, and televisions for watching everything from NASCAR to Orioles games. Of course, there

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