Just for fun, one day I'm going to stand outside the Crab Shanty and see how many patrons waddle out the doors moaning that they ate too much.
The restaurant, now in its 26th year, seems to operate under the philosophy that more is better. Broiled flounder is fine, and Crab Shanty serves a decent one, but what's the fun in that? Deep-fried flounder is the way to go here, or broiled flounder stuffed with an impressive amount of gooey crab imperial and doused with creamy hollandaise sauce.
If crab cakes are good, crab cake fluff - an old-time Maryland treat of battered and deep-fried crab cakes - is better.
And here's my favorite part - the crab fluff, served with tartar sauce and fries no less, is actually one of the three items in the menu's "lite fare" section. The other two are a fried hard crab and a crab cake sandwich, both served with tartar sauce and fries, of course.
Crabs, naturally, are a major attraction of the Crab Shanty. Usually from Louisiana, they are large and delicious, coated in a spicy seasoning more nuanced and slightly less salty than Old Bay.
I've eaten at Crab Shanty several times, and the service is always top-notch. One thoughtful detail is that the crabs are brought on a large tray, which contains the mess and is easy to remove when the hammering and picking are done. It's much better than the usual practice of putting brown paper on the whole table, then making everyone lift their glasses when it's time to clear.
The decor at Crab Shanty is just as over-the-top as the food. The large restaurant is divided into several eating areas, plus a bar. A balcony circling the main dining room is decorated to resemble an old Victorian porch, with doorways that look as though they lead to rooms. Artifacts include leaded glass windows, an old furnace, mailboxes from an old post office, and even a sled used by Bing Crosby in the film Holiday Inn. Much of the artwork has a seafaring theme.
I've never had a bad meal at Crab Shanty, though many dishes are overly heavy with cheese and sauces. Crab cakes are a can't-go-wrong choice, and the steaks are always cooked to order, tender and flavorful.
Entrees come with a choice of creamy, mild cole slaw, a fairly run-of-the-mill green salad, or cheesy, very rich twice-baked potatoes. Warm rolls arrive almost as soon as you sit down.
If you think you'll have room for appetizers, a nice way to try several is by ordering the hot seafood sampler, which includes clams casino and oysters Rockefeller, as well as a rich mix of shrimp, crab and scallops topped with hollandaise. This would be an ideal dish to share, but there was only one oyster. I selfishly snagged it for myself, but it was topped in so much hollandaise sauce it was almost too filling for an appetizer.
An appetizer of coconut shrimp was easier to divvy up, as there were four large shrimp on the plate, all coated in a crunchy batter. They were delicious, but the apricot sauce served with it was not enough of a counterpoint to the sweetness of the coconut.
Desserts continue the theme of extravagance with gut-busters like a fried cheesecake-caramel tower (a special one night), a gooey brownie sundae topped with vanilla ice cream, hot fudge and whipped cream, and a Lady Baltimore cake, which was little more than a bland white cake with intensely sweet caramel icing. Where were the fruit and nuts that a traditional Lady Baltimore requires and that our server promised?
Still, I managed to eat my fair share. And waddling toward the car, I couldn't help but moan about how full I was.
Where: 3410 Plumtree Drive, Ellicott City
Open: Lunch and dinner daily, plus brunch on Sunday
Credit cards: All major
Prices: Appetizers $3.75-$10.50, entrees $11.50-$26.95