We haven't lost our allegiance to steamed crabs and crab cakes. (That will never happen.) We just felt it was time to pay homage to all the other ways crabmeat gets used in restaurants around these parts. Local chefs are extremely creative, incorporating jumbo lump into everything from the quirky (like the crab pretzel) to the avant-garde (decadent deviled eggs, anyone?). We also sought advice on everyone's favorite party snack—crab dip. We asked several food-loving personalities to share their special ingredient. You'll be surprised by some of the responses: Curry! Almonds! (The recipes can be found at baltimoremagazine.net.) And we couldn't have a crab issue without talking to the Cernak family, who will be closing the venerable Obrycki's this November. But don't be too sad. They have great plans for their crab business.
Here are our 26 top crab dishes.
Gunning's Seafood Restaurant
Gunning's Seafood Restaurant (7304 Parkway Dr., Hanover, 410-712-9404) is the kind of no-frills place where you'd expect to find a hint of salt in the air and hear the roar of an outboard motor instead of planes from BWI. There's no ceremony in the presentation of the crab balls ($12.99)—five or six on a plate, accompanied by a pair of plastic cups filled with prosaic cocktail sauce. But inside those miniature fried globes is the real deal: generous lumps of meat packed tight. It's like popping a mini crab cake into your mouth.
Crab Lumps a la Norfolk
We're not sure of its pedigree, but crab ala Norfolk used to be a popular Eastern Shore dish. Like many recipes, though, it's fallen out of favor over the years. Thankfully, the Williamsburg Inn (11131 Pulaski Hwy., White Marsh, 410-335-3172), a throwback itself, has kept the old-fashioned dish ($23.95 with two sides) on its menu. It features jumbo crab lumps, cubes of Smithfield ham, and sliced mushrooms sautéed in butter and sherry wine. Take a bite, and your taste buds are time-traveling to the past.
Ocean Pride Restaurant
A recent post on www.chowhound.com created a lively thread about our region's unique crab fluff, or crab puff as some call it. We're happy that places like Ocean Pride Restaurant (1534 York Rd., Lutherville, 410-321-7744) still serve this tradition. It's like a giant fritter, with a breaded crab cake deep-fried to golden-brown perfection. Add fries and coleslaw for a $16.95 platter.
Of course, there's crab pie in Crabtown, hon, and Matthew's Pizza (3131 Eastern Ave., 410-276-8755) does it best. This delectable, chewy-crust pizza (large, $14.79/market price) is packed with backfin, a fine blanket of hand-grated mozzarella and imported Reggiano cheeses, and, the pièce de résistance, sweet caramelized onions. Better get two. Matthew's large is only about nine inches.
Bo Brooks Restaurant
The hard-fried crab ($16)—an old-school classic—has waned in popularity recently, but Bo Brooks Restaurant (2780 Lighthouse Point in the 2700 block of Boston St., 410-558-0202) keeps the dish alive. A whole crab is trimmed of its top shell, stuffed with crab-cake filling, and then battered and deep fried. Commit to getting messy, because once you get past the puffy golden batter (gnawing it off the claws is particularly gratifying) and dense filling, there is still the crab itself to crack and consume.
Stuffed Lobster Tail
Known for classic steamed-crab-and-mallet suppers, Costas Inn (4100 North Point Blvd., Dundalk, 410-477-1975) also has a thing for crab imperial—a heap of crab slathered in creamy white sauce offered atop shrimp, orange roughy, the fish du jour, or even on its own. But to experience this lumpilicious treat at the pinnacleof opulence, try the stuffed lobster tail ($35.95), a thick curl of delectable meat straining from its shell.