At Captain James', go for the corn and the jumbos


We wanted crabs, but we didn't want just any crabs. We wanted crabs with atmosphere.

We wanted to sit out at the edge of the water on a warm summer evening, a light breeze blowing, with a great mound of hard shells in front of us. And we didn't want to leave the city.

We ended up, pretty much at random, on Aliceanna Street. The sign said "Steamed Crabs" and, sure enough, Captain James Landing, a seafood restaurant across the street, had set up a crab garden in its parking lot on the edge of the Patapsco.

It isn't fancy. The tables and benches are gray weathered wood with red and yellow umbrellas. Some are under a blue awning. The music for your listening pleasure comes from a boom box set on Mix 106-FM. A hand-lettered sign proclaims "All You Can Eat, $16. Mon. through Thurs."

The menu is concise. Crabs in four sizes. Steamed shrimp. Corn on the cob. Crab soup. Hot dogs for the kids. Beer and soda. That's it. You want dessert? Head across the street to the restaurant; I hear it has great homemade baklava.

The first thing we spotted when we arrived was a pile of enormous steamed beauties at the table next to us. Those were jumbos, our waitress told us, but all that were left were mediums. (The other table had called ahead to reserve them.)

One thing about a menu this short, you get to try everything. (OK, not the hot dog. The kid we had with us was only 2 months old.) We started with the fine, homey crab soup, served in cardboard carry-out containers. It's spicy but not too spicy, with about as much crab as you could hope for at these prices.

But the hit of the evening was the corn on the cob. Even though this early in the season it must be from points south, it tasted just picked. Most impressively, it was cooked to order and not overcooked. It came to the table still in its husk, too hot to handle at first. Even the squeeze bottle of Sure, I Believe It's Not Butter couldn't detract from the corn's sweet goodness.

Unfortunately, neither the shrimp nor the crabs lived up to what had come before. The shrimp were freshly steamed, but for too long, and had so much seasoning they needed to be rinsed. The crabs, on the other hand, had the perfect amount of fire and spice, but because they were so small -- or maybe because they hadn't been steamed to order -- they were waterlogged and a bit mushy. Not awful, but not great. Call in advance for the jumbos.

So the crabs weren't perfect. We had a fine time, in spite of a sullen waitress. (Ever have a waitress not speak to your table because one of your guests made a little crack about the service?) The evening was warm, a breeze was blowing gently, and we were picking crabs by the water.

Captain James Crab House

Where: On Aliceanna near Boston Street in the parking lot

Hours: Monday through Friday, 5 p.m.-10 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 2 p.m.-10 p.m.

Credit cards accepted: Major

Features: Steamed crabs

Non-smoking section? No

Call: (410) 675-1819

Prices: Crabs, $18-$35 a dozen

** 1/2

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