Reporting Jay Lloyd
The first crabs of a new boating season are a rare treat after a winter hiatus. But the legendary Chesapeake Bay Blue Crabs are fickle critters that take their own time about coming out of their winter burrows. Watermen on the upper bay tell us that this year, “They’re comin’ in slow.” I just had my first of the year at a waterside eatery on Kent Island, right off the crab-rich Chester River. They were local, sweet and packed with meat. Here’s where to find them at a dockside table or packed, steamed or live to take home for your own neighborhood crab feast. – Jay Lloyd
This is where the locals go. Veteran waterman Chris Lingerman buys his crab harvest from as many as 23 skippers who work the waters on and near the Chester River. When he sits down at the table, he reaches for a large one – 6 to 6-1/2 inches across. Most of the time, he’s dealing them out to visitors for a take-home crab feast. You can buy them by the bushel here; they come live or he’ll steam them up for you. After the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, Chris was one of the suppliers called on to fill “the crab gap.” If you need multiple bushels, it’s good idea to call ahead: 1-410-639-7018.
With its picturesque harbor, restaurants and boutique shopping for nautical treasures, St. Michaels draws a bumper crop of visitors from the Delaware Valley each year. Before leaving for home, many make a short detour on Route 33 to pick up their crabs at Chesapeake Landing Restaurant. A good reason to buy the crabs here rather than in town is that the catch comes straight from the next door docks. There’s also a noticeable difference in price.
You can drive or sail to this scenic waterfront eatery and watch a parade of boats cruising between the Chesapeake Bay and the Miles River, the waterborne highway to St. Michaels. Here is where my sailing buddies and I enjoyed the first local crabs of the season on the upper deck with an unobstructed view of the bridges that cross the narrows. Between picking at well-spiced crabs, gnawing on corn on the cob and washing it all down with some local beer, we could keep an eye on the boat that brought us in…and almost touch the top of the mast!
Let’s face it, picking crabs can be an expensive pastime – almost a luxury. But often taming the cost can be as simple as location. Waterside crab decks are going to be more expensive than crab houses that park themselves on a landlocked patch near — but not on — the bay. One example is Ford’s Seafood Restaurant just outside of Rock Hall, Maryland. You’ll often find “River Monsters” on the menu – crabs that take on Godzilla proportions. Just three can fill me up. Ford’s is also the spot to take in any major sporting events – particularly Orioles and Ravens games. There’s an array of flat screen TVs in front and a pool table in the back. This is a buzzing sports bar and restaurant with a focus on crabs and comfort food at easy to digest prices.
Some tips: When meandering around the Eastern Shore of Maryland, have a cooler to carry home your crabs or any fresh seafood that’s offered at the docks along the way — the Chesapeake Bay is also famous for its oysters and rockfish. Remember, crabs will stay alive a long time if they are kept cool. Ask the seller how to pack them, or – even better — just let him do it.
Additionally, many crab houses on the bay create their own seasoning blend. If you find one that’s special, take some home. They’ll be glad to sell it. At some places, they’ll even give it away when you buy live crabs.
If you plan to have a waterside picnic on the bay that includes crabs, make sure you have mallets and knives for cracking and picking the claws. And don’t forget some paper towel and moistened wipes. Crackin’ crabs isn’t tidy.
If you’re new to crabs, ask a Marylander for a show and tell. They’re too good and too expensive to waste a morsel! I even suck the meat out of the tiny legs.
Enjoy your feast!