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Getting crabby at the Crossroads Pub

Crossroads Pub is aptly named. Not two but three roads — Ten Oaks, Linthicum and Greenbridge — all gird the little yellow, single-family, detached house there in Dayton. According to manager Lance Williams, the vintage building has, over the years, served as a general store and a barber shop, among other things.

For the past 14 years, though, the little building with the big parking lot has been an eating (and quaffing) establishment owned by Bill and Kathleen Green, who got their start in the restaurant business at Baltimore's Cross Street Market.

Pub, as we all know, is short for "public house." And inside the cozy space are 11 tables where the public can meet and greet, then sit and enjoy all those pub dishes that have become classics over the years.

While this eatery may be located at a Crossroads, its menu certainly isn't. Straightforward is the word. All-American is the description. And Maryland — specifically its love for seafood — is the focus. Indeed, the only "foreign" influences appear to be the jalapeno poppers in the appetizer section of the menu and the Japanese bread crumbs (panko) used to coat the fried shrimp.

Thus, on the tempting list of appetizers are crab dip, a crab pretzel and crab balls. And just to mix it up a bit, there are fried clams and steamed shrimp. Soups — two of them — are cream of crab and Maryland crab.

Of course, there are sandwiches. And you can actually get some red meat here. As in the Philly cheese steak and the steak burger made from freshly ground sirloin. Regional influence can be seen in the Philly cheese steak and in the Louisiana (Cajun spiced) chicken sandwich.

Those who want to dig into the dinner platters have 10 items from which to choose. There's a fillet mignon and a Black Angus New York strip. The eight remaining combo offerings all have to do with seafood and range from a tilapia filet to an oyster platter to Crossroad's seafood platter, which features a jumbo lump crab cake, breaded shrimp, tilapia, fried oysters and fried clams (strips).

This is not exactly a Jack Sprat bill of fare, but he could probably dine quite nicely on the Maryland crab soup, steamed shrimp, the grilled tilapia and an ample garden salad. And all at relatively reasonable prices, served cheerfully by the efficient staff.

The great outdoors

Crossroads is a year-round local watering hole, but it is during the more clement months that the pub expands outdoors, adding 11 umbrella-shaded picnic tables to its fenced-in patio. There are a few hanging plants to make it feel outdoorsy, and the fence is studded with beer signs, to make it feel pubby. Here, you can enjoy anything on the menu in an al fresco ambience. But you can also treat yourself and some friends to a crab feast with none of the fuss and mess falling all over your own deck.

Which is a big reason six of us found ourselves at Crossroads on a recent, and perfect, late-spring evening. We called ahead and reserved the all-you-can-eat-crabs option ($34.95 each) for four. And allowed the two non-seafood eaters to accompany us, and to taste some of the other items on the menu.

Just so you know, we could have opted to crack our crabs indoors, but how much more reassuring it was for we four crabby folks (and our entourage) to be led out to the patio and be seated at a picnic table, topped with craft paper, centered with a wooden "boat" holding paper towels and condiments, and set with crab mallets and serrated plastic knives. And beside each three-person seat was a big open paper bag just waiting to be filled with shells and other debris.

The all-you-can-eat-crab option is available here all year, but really comes into its own about now. Crabs, we're told, come from the Carolinas and from Maryland, with the larger ones from more southern locations.

Whatever. The crustaceans that night were relatively heavy and, in general, perfectly steamed. The Pub gets its steaming spices from J.O. Spice Co. out of Baltimore. It seems less salty than Old Bay and less tongue searing than the various spice mixes other crab emporiums use. In short, the Crossroads kitchen imparts a more subtle flavoring to the delicate crab meat, and this, to our palates, is a good thing.

The all-you-can-eat option includes a cup of cream of crab (add $1 to your total) or Maryland crab soup. The creamy version is so thick, you can stand your spoon up in it, but there's plenty of lumpy crab in it, so it is sweet and comforting and helps take a slight edge off your appetite until the crabs (or whatever) arrive. The Maryland crab soup also contains a fairly good amount of crab, along with corn, carrots, tomatoes, green beans and limas in a thin (as it should be), nicely spiced tomato-tinted base.

Also included can be hush puppies and slaw. Or, opt for a garden salad on the side for a little additional coinage ($1.50). The chopped salad was large and impeccably fresh, with dark, crisp greens, cherry tomato halves, cucumbers and croutons and an acceptable blue cheese dressing on the side.

The hush puppies, which Williams said were among the most popular items on the menu, were delightful. Delicately crisp, golden brown, nongreasy morsels had a pleasant grainy texture inside, and were studded with whole corn kernels for even more pleasant mouth feel.

We tried to persuade our meat eaters to order a steak dinner, but, in the casual outdoor mode, one opted for the Philly cheese steak sandwich ($8.95) and one for the steak burger ($7.95). The former arrived fresh, hot, juicy, each half in a white paper wrapper to hold in the heat and the juices. Scarfed down quickly, with a satisfied smile. The steak burger was huge, tender, beefy, in a hefty roll that could stand up to the juicy, meaty inside.

Curly fries were an optional side. Hot, lightly crisp, freshly cooked. Or onion rings, hand breaded (as are all the breaded ingredients here) — again, hot, lightly crisp, with a sweet, juicy oniony flavor inside. With a spicy, homemade aioli (mayo) for dunking.

No room for dessert, of course. One reason, according to manager Williams, is because the Crossroads kitchen — with Charlie and Russell (using Bill Green's recipes) sharing the helm and two official crab steamers helping out — has no oven. But cakes and pies, from local vendors (with their own ovens) are available to satisfy the sweet toothed diner.

Among the several things there are to like about the Crossroads Pub is its unpretentious approach to classic pub fare. The kitchen may not provide some of the more exotic dishes Gen Y has come to expect, but what the Pub kitchen does prepare it does very well, indeed.

As to the steamed crabs. Excellent. And you don't have to go to the shore to get 'em.

Crossroads Pub (410-531-7485), 4809 Ten Oaks Road, Dayton. Good, freshly cooked pub food, Maryland style, plus a pleasant venue for a classic crab feast. Efficient, friendly service. Reasonable prices. Hours may vary. As of this writing, the Pub is closed on Monday and Tuesday and opens at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and at noon on Saturday and Sunday.

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