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Food & Drink

Bits & Bites: A ‘Top Chef’ picks crabs with his teeth, Crust by Mack pops up, Lamar Jackson opens Florida restaurant

Why does celebrity chef Tom Colicchio open crabs with his teeth?

I am still digesting everything from last Friday’s Preakness Live Festival. Curated by Baltimore native Kevin Liles and held in Pimlico’s Infield, it featured A-list musicians, a bevy of Baltimore vendors at Restaurant Row, as well as a memorable crab-picking demonstration from “Top Chef” judge Colicchio.

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During a cooking demonstration that included Jasmine Norton of The Urban Oyster, Colicchio cracked open a pile of steamed blue crabs using his mouth, saying that it was a technique he learned growing up in New Jersey.

There may be a method to this madness. After minutes of picking, he had a substantial pile of crab meat ready to be gobbled up. Colicchio told fellow “Top Chef” judge Gail Simmons that when he picks crabs, he doesn’t share.

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On Monday I caught up with Norton, who was still beaming from the “surreal” experience of cooking with Colicchio and others onstage during her first-ever visit to Preakness.

She and Colicchio talked crabs behind-the-scenes, and she learned that he’s an avid crabber himself, catching blue crabs near his Long Island home.

Norton said that when it comes to cracking crabs, she’s down for taking a bite. “I crack the claws with my teeth,” she said. “I don’t know how long I’ll be able to use them.”

More tidbits from Restaurant Row at Preakness

Norton is opening a new seafood and burger stall called The Urban Kitchen next year at Washington, D.C., food hall The Bevy. In the meantime, progress is still underway at her upcoming Hampden location of The Urban Oyster, which will be in the former Asian Taste storefront on the Avenue.

Crust by Mack is heading back to Whitehall Mill for the summer, owner Amanda Mack told me as she was setting up her stall at Restaurant Row in the Infield Friday. Mack had shut that location earlier this year with plans to reopen at a new space in Midtown-Belvedere. But those dreaded supply chain woes have severely held up construction at the new space. “The lead times are insane,” Mack said. So, it’s back to Whitehall for a pop-up that will run from June 11 through this September.

As a bonus, Baltimore plant titan Hilton Carter will be selling goods at the Whitehall stall alongside Mack, famous for her crab hand pies and homemade cookies. Carter, who has his own Target collection, also took over the former Greenhouse space at Hampden’s Good Neighbor coffee shop. The new shop is called Green Neighbor.

The owners of Breaking Bread, another Preakness Live vendor, told methat they are opening a new restaurant at 220 Park Ave. in downtown Baltimore. Kimberly Ellis and Catherine Inniss had been operating as a ghost kitchen in the Hotel Revival after shutting down the restaurant’s initial location in Pigtown.

Cajou Creamery has plans to add a new location in Baltimore that includes a production facility as well as retail space, according to owner Nicole Foster. She declined to say where in the city it will be.

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Could we be seeing Blk Swan’s Saon Brice on an upcoming season of “Top Chef”? During the Preakness Live cooking demonstration with Colicchio and past show winner Marcus Samuelsson, Brice hinted that he hadn’t made the cut for a previous season. To which Simmons replied wryly: She “might know some people.”

It’s boiled peanuts for Lamar Jackson

In some non-Preakness Live-related news, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson has a new title: restaurateur.

The 2019 NFL MVP is launching his new eatery, Play Action Soul Food, early next month in his hometown of Pompano Beach, Florida.

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The restaurant is a rebrand for Tasty’s Soul Food Sports Bar & Grill on 3770 NE 3rd Ave. and will have its grand opening June 3, according to Jackson’s Laurel-based attorney Andrea Hence Evans.

The new restaurant’s tagline is: “You 8 Yet?” a reference to his jersey number. Jackson also runs an apparel line called Era 8 by Lamar Jackson.

Jackson has applied to trademark the phrases “Play Action Soulfood and more” as well as “You 8 Yet?” Both trademarks apply to restaurant services as well as clothing, allowing the restaurant to sell branded T-shirts, Evans said.

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Jackson, Evans said, “likes soul food, and the restaurant’s in his hometown. It seems like it’s a good fit. It’s a strong brand.”

In Baltimore, Jackson has been a regular customer at the soul food restaurant Miss Carter’s Kitchen on Edmondson Avenue. Evans said she didn’t know of plans to bring Play Action Soul Food to Baltimore.

Among Play Action Soulfood’s offerings will be boiled peanuts with turkey necks, corn and sausage, according to a post on social media.

Jackson observed that many people have never tried boiled peanuts, a regional specialty of the South with deep roots in African diaspora cooking. Have you ever eaten boiled peanuts in Baltimore? Email me at ctkacik@baltsun.com


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