A reader responded to our recent roundup of classic Maryland crab houses: "Take a trip to Glen Burnie and find Seaside on Crain Highway. Best crabs in town. … You need to move around to the other side of town."
In a follow-up conversation, the reader said, "Seaside is not a fancy place, but they are always crowded because so many people know how fantastic their steamed crabs are. They also have a full menu, and everything else we have tried has been delicious: crab soup, salads, onion rings and other crab dishes."
Keep those tips coming. Seaside is a bona fide find (for me, although everyone in Glen Burnie and the surrounding communities seems to know about it). On a recent Monday night, Seaside was packed, its parking lot filled. Be prepared to meander the alleys of Glen Burnie for a parking space.
Seaside doesn't look like very much from the outside, and it doesn't look like much on the inside either. An enclosed front porch is equipped with picnic-style tables, but no one was using them when I visited, probably because it was ridiculously hot outside.
Once inside, diners have a left-right choice. To the right is the bar area, which I barely glimpsed. To the left is the large dining room, which is not fancy but not entirely featureless. The walls are painted with nautical-themed murals and hung with nautical gewgaws. In my mind's eye, though, it's just a big, long, loud room, and if you were assigned to find an authentic, charming or classic crab house for a photo spread or a folkways documentary, Seaside is just about the last place you'd recommend.
Except that the opposite is true, and Seaside is exactly what the classic Baltimore-area crab house looks like — a big room full of people who know where to go for a great family dinner. And if Seaside looks like the true Maryland seafood restaurant for these times, its menu is the real thing, too. This means, first, that there are umpteen versions of the basic cream-cheese crab dip on the menu — served on pretzels, on toast, by itself — and that lobster, clams and shrimp get as much attention as crabs do.
Not everyone at Seaside orders steamed crabs, which the restaurant openly acknowledges comes from the Gulf of Mexico. They were running small and medium when we visited — a dozen were going for $50, a good deal if they're heavy crabs, which the dozen we ordered were. We were ordering entrees and appetizers, too, and our server, a pro, figured out a way to split up the dozen: Six were delivered after the appetizers, the other six after the entrees.
This was all the server's idea, and she also anticipated every question, concern and need we had throughout the meal, offering encouraging nods when we asked about, say, the soups, the shrimp salad or the corn on the cob. Yes, she said, the homemade soups are delicious; absolutely, the corn is particularly sweet today; and, yes, the shrimp salad is a house favorite.
And she was right every time. It looked like as many people showed up at Seaside for its regular menu of classic seafood as they did for steamed crabs. We saw lots of diners enjoying soft-shell platters, seafood combinations, crab cakes and racks of ribs, and Seaside's regular menu is not exactly bargain city, so that should tell you something. The food at Seaside is well prepared and satisfying, which is not to say it's always interesting.
A Maryland crab soup, with a nice peppery bite to it, uses what looks to be canned vegetables, not out of indifference but because that's what the classic recipe for Maryland soup calls for. And the cream of crab soup is absurdly thick, pasty really, like a crab-flavored stick of butter. A sampler of hot appetizers delivers decently prepared crab balls, clams casino and bacon-wrapped barbecued shrimp.
Some things, like the fried soft-shell crabs, ordered as an entree, are better than good: crispiness over juicy meat. These can be ordered topped with the house's imperial sauce, which is very cheesy. Ribs are tender and meaty and coated with a tangy and peppery barbecue sauce. A chunky shrimp salad is seasoned modesty and tastes persuasively fresh.
As for the steamed crabs — they arrive hot, heavy and intact.
There are a few homemade desserts here — a bread pudding with whiskey sauce we thought about, until we were told about the homemade "nutty buddies" — ice cream rolled in nuts and coated with chocolate. We timed it so we could walk out with them after paying our check. Walking out, we were the envy of everyone.
Where: 224 Crain Highway N., Glen Burnie
Contact: 410-760-2200, http://www.theseasiderestaurant.com
Hours: Open for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch
Prices: Appetizers, $4.99-$14.99; entrees, $17.99-$37.99
[Key: Outstanding: ✭✭✭✭; Good:✭✭✭; Fair or Uneven:✭✭; Poor:✭]