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New Boathouse is great for picking crabs, and the spice is right @


It was an almost perfect evening for eating outdoors, one of those warm, breezy summer evenings with low humidity that are all too rare in Baltimore. And we found the perfect place to spend it picking crabs: the new Boathouse & Crab Deck just south of Little Italy.

It's owned by Jim Mikula and Tom Douglas, who also own Bohager's next door and Weber's in Canton. But it is a separate eating place, with its own menu and no liquor license. (You can get beer in unopened cans or bottles here. The waiter buys it himself from Bohager's and sells it to you.)

If you like outdoor crab decks, you're going to love the Boathouse. Built on several levels with what eventually will be weathered wood, it has attractive tropical plantings and huge palm trees -- even sand! Reggae plays in the background when there's no live music.

My husband the gardener kept trying to find out from the maitre d' (or bouncer, I'm not sure which) where all those palm trees were going to winter. Poor guy -- the maitre d', that is -- here he was trying to hit on a couple of cute chicks at Bohager's outdoor bar; and some middle-age weirdo was bothering him about the palm trees.

Anyway, all-you-can-eat crabs are available Tuesday nights, but on a Sunday three large ($26 a dozen) just about filled me up. You can't really trust my judgment here because I never met a steamed crab I didn't like, but these seemed exceptionally good. They were heavy and coated with a thick gunk that was just the right balance of spicy seasonings: not too fiery to overwhelm the sweet crab meat.

You can have a four-star meal here by ordering crabs; good, sweet corn on the cob cooked (but not overcooked) in its husk; fried pepper rings and dessert. For those of you who have never experienced Baltimore crab houses' most wicked pleasure, fried pepper rings are slices of green pepper that are battered, deep-fat fried and sprinkled with powdered sugar. The Boathouse's are great because they use red and green peppers, and what tastes like a light tempura batter. Not too much powdered sugar, either.

As for desserts, each is better than the last: a warm chocolate brownie with ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate sauce; a delicate and elegant mocha ice cream pie; and a homemade apple pie to die for, with an incredibly rich and flaky crust.

Stick to these good things and you can't go wrong. The Boathouse also has a beautiful crab cake made with lump crab meat, but what the menu calls a crab fluff was nothing of the sort. Imagine a soft shell crab encased in a heavy corn meal muffin and deep-fat fried -- not your usual crab fluff, which can best be described as a batter-fried crab cake.

Clams casino included delicious morsels of tender clam, seasoned bread crumbs, bacon and melted butter. The Maryland crab soup would have been rather ordinary except that it had a generous spoonful of crab meat nestled on top.

The clambake should have included clams, mussels, shrimp and an ear of corn. Our waiter (who was very good, by the way) warned me that the restaurant was out of mussels but said I would get extra clams and shrimp. That was fine, but the clams and shrimp had been overcooked.

Boathouse & Crab Deck

Where: 515 S. Eden St.

Hours: 5 p.m.-11 p.m. every day

Credit cards accepted: All major

Features: Crabs

Non-smoking section? Yes

Call: (410) 675-3808

Prices: Varies according to market

** 1/2

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