Christmas is king at the Crab Shanty; Even great seafood takes a back seat to the season; Restaurant Profile

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Over the past 21 years, the Crab Shanty in Ellicott City has made quite a name for itself.

The eating place is renowned for its crabs, of course, and for the variety and selection of the fresh seafood. Its prominent location on U.S. 40 doesn't hurt, and the restaurant's carryout business has become as popular as the 290-seat sit-down eating house.

But the monthlong Christmas season manages to attract even more customers than usual. It has become something of a local tradition to dine at the Crab Shanty -- or at least stop by -- to see the family-style restaurant's extravagant holiday decorations, which bring more than a little festive spirit to the always-packed house.

Lights, greenery and ornaments adorn nearly every square inch of wall space. Several of the restaurant's antiques, which are on display year-round, have been cunningly incorporated into the Christmas theme. More than 20,000 lights twinkle throughout the restaurant, and yards of cotton are used as "snow."

Restaurant owner Bill King says Christmas has always been a big deal in his family -- and the spirit naturally caught on in the restaurant.

"We began decorating the very first year we were open," King says. "It just grew and grew when we had new ideas, and now people come from all over to see the decorations around this time of year."

At the far end of the restaurant's Chesapeake Room is the most famous artifact on display: a sled from the Bing Crosby film "Holiday Inn." King's father bought the sled at auction about 20 years ago, and it never comes down from its perch atop the post office. Come Christmastime, however, the sled is decorated with lights and loaded with toys and packages.

King and his crew begin decorating during the second week of October and finish everything the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Each year, King adds more embellishments to his burgeoning collection. This year, puppets and animated figures were added to the holiday decor.

"People really seem to enjoy the decorating," he said. "Sometimes I wonder, after I've finished decorating the restaurant every year, if I'll have time or energy to decorate my own house. We haven't even put up the tree yet!"

Though the Crab Shanty is closed Christmas Day, it will be open until 9 p.m. tomorrow. Seafood will be served, but King's celebrated eggnog and Yule-log dessert hint at the season.

Crab Shanty

Where: 3410 Plum Tree Drive at U.S. 40, Ellicott City; 410-465-9660.

Hours: Lunch, 11: 30 a.m. to 2: 30 p.m. Monday through Friday; dinner, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.

Prices: Appetizers, $3.50 to $12; entrees, $9.95 and up.

Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover, Diners Card.

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