In scientific circles, Maryland’s famed blue crab is referred to as Callinectes sapidus. Roughly translated, the Latin name means “beautiful swimmer that is savory.” These incomparably tasty crustaceans thrive in the brackish waters of the picturesque Chesapeake Bay, where they are harvested annually from roughly April until November. Because more than 50 percent of all the blue crab fished in this country comes from this stretch of the Atlantic, the Old Line State has rightfully earned a reputation as the go-to place to enjoy crabs. Here are seven of the best crab dishes you must try the next time you visit.
Wit & Wisdom, Baltimore
Whenever we walk into a restaurant and they have multiple iterations of blue crab, we always find ourselves torn. Do we go with the traditional cakes or try something else? Decisions, decisions! They make it easy at this waterfront eatery overlooking Baltimore’s much-Instagrammed harbor by offering a trio of preparations: crab cake with charred corn succotash, crispy soft shell with marinated cherry tomatoes and avocado, and a spicy tomato stew. Make a reservation at Wit & Wisdom.
Iron Rooster, Annapolis
We love pancakes. We adore fried green tomatoes. And we have a lifelong passion for crab cakes. So this Cakes on Cakes dinner entrée is pretty much heaven for us. Jumbo lump crab cakes lightly seasoned with Dijon, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, sautéed onions, and garlic sit atop cornmeal-crusted fried green tomatoes, which rest on cornmeal pancakes. The glorious triple stack is drenched with chipotle hollandaise and arrives with stalks of grilled asparagus. Make a reservation at Iron Rooster.
City Café, Baltimore
For fans of blue crabs, soft shells are considered the greatest of delicacies. Having just molted their hard shell, they have a tender exterior, so the crab can be eaten in their entirety. This can be a little disconcerting for first timers, but let us assure you – they’re delicious. When you bite into the soft shell, it crackles and cracks like a potato chip with just the slightest bit of chew. Chef Jennings encrusts one with macadamia nuts and garnishes it with a lemon basil-accented tomato-avocado salad. It rests atop a hillock of buttery mashed potatoes. Make a reservation at City Café.
Don’t expect any fussy, highfalutin prep on the soft shell here. They do it up simple style: deep fried on a thicket of jicama and cabbage salad lightly dressed with rice vinegar and olive oil. If you’re feeling particularly hungry, the kitchen crew will double down on the crab for you, so the dish resembles what watermen refer to as a “buck and rider.” The term references to a pair of mating crabs who have been caught in flagrante delicto. Make a reservation at Johnny’s.
Why bother with the same old, same old standard Eggs Benedict? Chef Bryan Voltaggio – whom you might remember from Top Chef and Top Chef Masters – puts a local spin on the brunch favorite. He subs in a waffle for the standard English muffin, and then plunks down some Maryland crab and a soft poached farm fresh egg. Don’t worry, purists, there’s plenty of hollandaise sauce involved. Don’t forget to order a side of the maple-glazed doughnuts spangled with bits of bacon. Make a reservation at Volt.
Lighthouse Sound, Bishopville
The food is as wow-worthy as the views here. The recently renovated resto overlooks the Ocean City skyline and Assawoman Bay. (Don’t even think about making a joke! First of all, they’ve all been said. Second of all, you’re better than that.). Diners flock to this longtime favorite for its spectacular seafood, including jumbo lump crab cakes made using a closely guarded secret recipe. It’s served with a tomato beurre blanc and a smiley half moon of lemon to squeeze on at your discretion. Make a reservation at Lighthouse Sound.
The Met, Bethesda
This is our kind of foursome! The kitchen offers a quartet of soft shell preparations, including fried, sautéed, or meuniére style with brown butter, lemon juice, and parsley. We’re big fans of the fourth way: the soft shell po’ boy. Only available during lunch, this spectacular sando bulges with crab, tomato rounds, slaw, and a Cajun remoulade. We recommend you order one with a side of loaded tots featuring lardons, sour cream, and white cheddar. Make a reservation at the Met.
Nevin Martell is a Washington, D.C.-based food and travel writer and the author of several books, including Freak Show Without A Tent: Swimming with Piranhas, Getting Stoned in Fiji and Other Family Vacations. Find him on Twitter @nevinmartell.
Photo credits: Visit Baltimore (Iron Rooster).