By Alexis Sweeney
Special to baltimoresun.com
June 22, 2001
In the home of the blue crab, it seems you can find a restaurant, carryout or unmarked truck peddling the steamed specialty at every corner. But where is the best place to roll up your sleeves, wield your mallet, and have a truly authentic, utterly delicious Maryland crab experience? There are a few places where high-quality crabs, service and atmosphere is undisputed.
No mallet needed:
A perfect crab cake from Angelina's. (Sun photo by Nanine Hartzenbusch)
Even though this article is about steamed crabs, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention Angelina's. The restaurant doesn't serve Maryland steamed crabs, but it does serve one of the most revered crab cakes south of the Mason-Dixon line. Opened in 1952 as a neighborhood Italian restaurant, Angelina's was later purchased by an Irish family, which converted the downstairs into an Irish pub. There, the family perfected the crab cake recipe that would lure visitors to northeast Baltimore. The popular crab cake contains 80 percent jumbo lump crabmeat and, according to one customer, is "like eating crabmeat magically held together in a ball." In addition to the famous crab cakes, you'll find a full menu of traditional Italian fare and local seafood. (If you are in the market for unusual crab cakes -- blackened, Mexican, Caribbean Jerk or Italian -- try the Crack Pot Seafood Restaurant.)
Catch some rays:
Elisa Ellin delivers a tray full of crabs to the deck customers at Bo Brooks. (Sun photo by Gene Sweeney Jr.)
Due to their stature, former Oriole Boog Powell calls the crabs at Bill's "aircraft carriers." Other Baltimoreans agree, saying the crabs at Bill's are large and meaty, and the servers are the most pleasant around. Neighborhood folks and far-flung devotees frequent this traditional crab house to engage in a satisfying and affordable picking frenzy.
Bo Brooks Crab House
Bo Brooks opened at the corner of Belair Road and Southern Avenue in 1964 as one of the only crab houses in Baltimore at the time. It quickly earned a good reputation and a loyal following. That reputation contains today at the restaurant's new location on the waterfront in Canton. With indoor and seasonal outdoor seating for 350 patrons, it offers great water and sunset views in one of Baltimore's most lively neighborhoods.
If I had been a fan of Regis and Kathie Lee (when they were still together, mind you), I would have known about Costas' Inn, a self-described "secret jewel" among Baltimore-area restaurants. Kathie Lee featured the restaurant's steamed crabs on her fairwell episode of "Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee." Instead, it took a faithful SunSpot reader and crab devotee to open my eyes to this family-run operation that has been serving steamed crabs and other goodies since 1971. Costas' doesn't depend on unreliable supplies of Chesapeake Bay crabs: it imports Texas & Louisiana daily, meaning diners can feast on meaty steamed crabs year-round. Because of the high demand, diners should call ahead to request specific sizes and quantities of crabs. If you want to sing for your supper, visit Costas' lounge on Friday and Saturday nights for Karaoke between 9 p.m. and 1 a.m.
Summer Wampler serves Lynn Shelton, of Quakertown, Pa., a lunch of local Chesapeake crabs at the Crab Claw restaurant's outdoor deck. (Sun photo by Barbara Haddock Taylor)
Picking crabs is a social event and the Crab Claw is one of the best places to do it. Get a table on the deck alongside the harbor, order a pitcher (or two) of beer and settle in for the afternoon. The crabs are large, meaty and well seasoned. The beer is frosty, the service friendly, and the setting spectacular.
Okay, so it's a crab boat, not a crab house. But when you take a Grab-a-Crab charter, you get more than a meal. You get an afternoon on the Chesapeake Bay with a group of friends and Captain Dan, a lifelong fisherman and Eastern Shore resident. Not long after you board with your sunscreen and coolers -- it's BYOB -- Captain Dan brings out bowls of warm crab dip and club crackers. Once that's gone, he piles the two picnic tables with hot steamed crabs, spicy shrimp and buttered corn. The cruise lasts four hours, but Captain Dan says he's never run out of crabs. It's fun -- and filling -- trying to prove him wrong.
Gunning's Crab House
Gunning's was a Baltimore tradition before moving from its spot on Hanover St. to a shopping center in Hanover, Md. The location may have changed, but the tradition hasn't. They still serve up big, spicy crabs and their famous sweet green pepper rings covered in powdered sugar, and every morsel is prepared by a Gunning's family member. Sure this is just my opinion, but Gunning's has been featured in "GQ," "Esquire," the "New York Times" and the "Los Angelos Times." So, take their word for it.
The dockside tables provide a dining option for patrons at the Harris Crab House in Kent Narrows. (Sun photo by Doug Kaputsin)
Whenever we have out-of-town guests we bring them to Harris Crab House for the ultimate crab-eating experience. It's not just that Harris has meaty crabs, cold beer, an extensive menu and friendly service. It sits right on the bay in Kent Narrows, and aren't crabs meant to be eaten by the water? While you wait for your table, sip a cocktail on the dock and watch the passing boats. When you're finally seated, sample the cream of crab soup, steamed shrimp and oysters, but don't spoil your appetite for the steamed crabs.
Obrycki's is a Baltimore crab institution. (Sun photo by Algerina Perna)
Obrycki's is a Baltimore crab institution, selling crabs that are steamed with a "magical blend of seasonings," not the standard Old Bay. Located near the popular neighborhoods of Little Italy and Fells Point, Obrycki's is also known for some other specialties. Try the Crabby Mary (a traditional bloody Mary ringed with Obrycki's lemon-pepper seasoning and served with a crab claw) -- or the Obrycki Rycki (tropical fruit juices and liquors, crushed pineapple and a cherry served in a souvenir glass).
Big crab story:
Jimmy Graham, manager of the Seaside Restaurant in Glen Burnie, shows off what his place is known for -- huge crabs. (This one weighs a pound.) (Sun photo by David Hobby)
Locals have been coming to this Glen Burnie neighborhood joint for years to pick crabs, guzzle beer and slurp steamers. It's bright and spacious, and always jam-packed. It's a popular place for large groups and parties, but no patron goes unnoticed, or crabless, for long.