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June 24, 2008

Crabs, Crabs, and Crabs

Blue Crabs
Blue crabs

by Julia Bainbridge

June is Maryland's time: the trees grow lush and green, the air smells sweet, and the people smile a little more. As some friends and I passed by the Chesapeake Bay on a recent visit to my hometown of Baltimore, I pointed--black, yellow, white, and red pumping through me--"That's Maryland water, girls." Prideful (and silly), I know, but beauty does strange things.

What else does that water do? It gives us blue crabs, and I love blue crabs as many ways as Bubba loves shrimp. First on my list is Maryland crab soup. Cream of crab is good, but the tomato-based Maryland crab is a meal. You'll find other summer soups with crab thrown in for good measure; cold, crunchy gazpacho topped with lump crab meat never hurt anyone (except those with certain food allergies).

The way most Baltimoreans like their crabs is steamed in Old Bay seasoning. Then, all you need is some newspaper to throw on the table, a few mallets for cracking, and plenty of cold beer to wash it all down. And you'll need it at crab holy grounds like Obrycki's, where the seasoning has plenty of heat that likes to cling to your lips as you pick away. Often times you can get a multi-person crab feast that comes with some mussels, clams, corn on the cob, and maybe some cole slaw and potato salad. (The state is more southern than I grew up thinking it was; I've even caught a few menus serving fried green tomatoes.)

If you're lucky enough to make it to Maryland when soft shell crabs are available, head to the Milton Inn (named for Paradise Lost poet John Milton) in Sparks. A 260-year-old fieldstone building, this restaurant serves old-school dishes like clams casino (and sides like chive and Andouille grits and smoked corn with white cheddar--God bless 'em). But the real treat here is the soft shell crabs: two, usually, are sautéed and crisped up, and then served over a mix of lightly dressed corn and squash. Bolton Hill b bistro downtown serves an updated version. And some deli-pubby joints serve po' boys with a battered and fried soft shell crab instead of shrimp, clams, or whatever else New Englanders or New Orleanians use. I've been dreaming of them since my return to New York.

Lucky for me, Pearl Oyster Bar serves a soft shell crab dish when chef/owner Rebecca Charles can get her hands on some. I live across the street, so I can check on the specials menu from the window whenever I need to transport home for an evening. 

Further reading:
* It's not a crab, but the lobster takes some doing, too.


Apparently people from Maryland pronounce their state as "Meralin." I thought your readers might want to see proof of that claim and verification of your post in this documentary footage:

Hilarious movie, that one. Baltimoreans (or Baltimorons, as some of us call ourselves--in jest, I hope), tend to pronounce the city Bawldamore. The accent's not quite southern, but not quite anything else, either...

I totally agree that the Maryland Crab soup is better than the Cream of Crab. I'm from Annapolis, but now live in Florida. It makes me quite mad when restaurants down here say they have the Maryland Crab Cakes. They don't, so I make sure to fill up when I go back north to visit my family.

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