Food

Chesapeake Bay Seafood - You Can't Beat It

You Caught It... Let's Cook It

By
Susan
Elnicki Wade

It all begins with a nibble on your line. A few strong tugs and your heart beats a bit faster anticipating that something delicious beneath the waves has taken the bait. Who knows what could land on the hook when you drop a line into Chesapeake waters?

The Bay shelters about 350 fish species, which presents a cornucopia of regional seafood. Whether you're trolling on the back of your boat or casting from a wooden pier, get ready to reel in a plentiful catch. With 11,684 miles of shoreline surrounding America's premier estuary, the possibilities are endless.

During the summer, three candidates are likely to land in your cooler: crabs, rockfish and catfish. Once you catch them, how do you cook them? To help you prepare local delicacies like a waterman's wife, Marinalife talked to Eric Rosen, owner of St. Michaels Crab & Steak House, who has spent nearly a quarter-century preparing seafood Chesapeake-style.

His restaurant is located at St. Michaels Marina, so he's a pro at showing boaters how to make feasts with big flavors in small spaces. Fresh and simple is the key, says Rosen about Chesapeake cuisine. With seafood pulled right from the water, you don't need to do much to create a memorable meal.

With a few cooking essentials on board 3-to 5-gallon pot, a frying pan, a bucket for discarded shells, newspapers, cooking oil and a can of Old Bay or J.O. seasoning you can whip up a tasty dish to satisfy your crew.

Steam Crabs Like You Were Born in Baltimore

Picnic tables covered with newspaper and piles of discarded shells, accompanied by wooden mallets smacking stubborn claws, represents a beloved summer ritual on the Bay. While licking rust-colored seasoning off their fingers, locals cherish the tradition of picking this iconic crustacean.

What makes Chesapeake crabs special? Some say the Bay's brackish water enhances their flavor. Others argue that cold winter temps force crabs to develop insulating fat that makes them sweeter than their Southern counterparts. Their season lasts from April to December and peaks in late summer when crabs grow plump and sweet.

Steaming crabs is easy, and a few basic rules ensure an authentic Bay experience. If they're not kicking, says Rosen, we don't cook them. When they're alive, you know they're fresh and safe to eat. Locals turn up their noses at boiled crabs, claiming that submerging them in water makes them soft and mushy. Steaming is preferred, because it locks in the flavor.

Some folks add a splash of beer or vinegar to the boiling water, but everyone shakes a hefty amount of Old Bay or J.O. Spice on top. A dozen crabs steamed in a 3- to 5-gallon pot with a tight lid take about 20 to 25 minutes. When their color changes from blue to red, it's time for picking. Favorite sides at Bay crab feasts include hush puppies, fries, coleslaw, corn on the cob and cold beer or orange crushes.

The One-Pan Solution for Flawless Rockfish

When you pull in a fish with dark racing stripes across its sides, you've landed a sea creature so beloved in the region that it's Maryland's official state fish. Technically, it's called rockfish in salt waters and striped bass in fresh waters, but locals don't fuss much over the name. This feisty fish is fun to catch and a treat to eat.

Rockfish cruise the Bay year-round but head north in the spring to spawn in fresh water. During the 1990s, their population dipped so low that authorities imposed size and catch limits. Reel in two and you're done, and rockfish must be at least 18 inches long to keep.From lip to tail tip, the average rockfish measures about two to three feet, yielding a pair of nice-sized fillets. Less is more, notes Rosen when cooking rockfish. You don't want to mask the delicate flavor of this mild fish by adding heavy doses of seasoning.He keeps it simple by lightly pan-frying them with butter, lemon and a splash of white wine. Broiling with Old Bay sprinkled on top works well, too. Stuffing crab meat inside rockfish fillets is a heavenly taste experience. On the side, try fresh vegetables, rice or garlic pasta, washed down with a crisp Chardonnay.

A Dash of Heat Delivers Purr-fect Catfish

Eating seafood can improve the Bay's environment, especially when you take a fork to blue catfish. This invasive species started swimming around Virginia's James and Rappahannock rivers in the 1970s and is gobbling up native aquatic life as far north as the Potomac. They breed like crazy and have few natural predators, so locals worry about their impact on the region's ecosystem.

The average blue catfish is two feet long. It's got a face that only a mother catfish could love, with four whiskers, pasty blue skin and beady little eyes. But, behind the ugly mug are tasty fillets that are mild and tender.

Two schools of thought suggest ways to skin catfish after snipping off its whiskers. Some folks fillet them like any other fish, slicing behind the gills and down the back. Others nail the tail to a wooden board and pull the meat from the skin. With two fillets in hand, Rosen dusts them with Cajun seasoning and tosses them on a hot grill. Each side takes about five minutes, and then you can devour the invader. Another tasty option: Cut the fillets into strips, dredge them in bread crumbs, cornmeal or our and quick-fry them in vegetable oil for a crispy finish.

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The Captain Cider

Ingredients:

1.5 oz Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum
1.5 oz Cranberry juice
1.5 oz Hard apple cider

Instructions:

Fill a rocks glass with ice and combine all ingredients. Gently stir and garnish with a cranberry and apple slice.

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Hot Captain Cider

Ingredients:

2 oz Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum
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Chesapeake Seafood Houses
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Meet newcomers to the Bay’s waterfront dock-and-dine scene

If the pandemic hampered your travels and you haven’t cruised into the Chesapeake Bay for a while, then welcome back to its sunny shores. While you were away, the oyster and striped bass populations blossomed, and blue crabs grew plump in the shallow marshlands. 

During the past few years, quite a few new restaurants have opened and tapped into the cornucopia of fine local seafood.  Some innovative chefs grace plates with creative flavors and ingredients, while others take a traditional path with family recipes handed down for generations by watermen’s wives. Many concoct ways to consume invasive species, such as the blue catfish and northern snakehead, but eateries that nail up a sign declaring “Steamed Maryland Crabs!” attract the most attention.

To help you rediscover the bounty of the Bay, Marinalife has handpicked 10 terrific crab shacks and seafood houses for you to explore.

Maryland

Bowleys on the Bay Bar & Restaurant
Middle River, MD

For a tropical getaway without long-distance travel, Bowleys on the Bay has created a resort destination groove on Frog Mortar Creek in Baltimore County. Push your toes into the sand on 300 feet of beach surrounded by palm trees while sipping a rummy cocktail and listening to a steel drum band. You can watch boats glide into Long Beach Marina or see planes take flight at Martin State Airport as you nibble on fresh local seafood, hearty sandwiches, and meat dishes.

Where to Dock:  Long Beach Marina

The Choptank
Baltimore, MD

In the heart of the historic Fells Point district, The Choptank has risen from the foundation of the 200-year-old Broadway Market. Its menu reads like a culinary voyage around the Chesapeake Bay with steamed crabs, just-shucked oysters, steamed mussels, crab soup and fried chicken. On the spacious outdoor deck, sample 20 draft beers while live bands play tunes, and the stars twinkle above the urban skyline.

Where to Dock:  The Sagamore Pendry Hotel & Dock

Watershed

Baltimore, MD

It’s hard to say what Baltimore loves more — seafood or sports. But if you’d like to indulge in both, head over to Watershed in the Federal Hill neighborhood, which is in easy walking distance from Orioles Park and the Ravens’ M&T Bank Stadium. A menu laced with classic dishes harvested from the Chesapeake waters entices you to pick a dozen steamed crabs or slurp fresh local oysters while watching games on big-screen TVs. Located in the newly remodeled Cross Street Market, you can belly up to the long wooden bar on the main floor and wash down a platter of Old Bay wings with a cold Natty Boh. Or step up to the roof deck to watch the bustle below on South Charles Street with an orange crush in hand. A casual vibe and live music create an upbeat place to hang out with friends.

Where to Dock: Inner Harbor Marina

Latitude 38 Waterfront Dining
Annapolis, MD

Where the Severn River flows into the Chesapeake Bay, you can order local seafood with a view of boats cruising into Ego Alley, the showplace for vessels visiting Maryland’s state capital. With the new Upper Deck Bar and plenty of event space, this waterfront eatery accommodates groups of all sizes. Take your pick of regional favorites from crab cakes and peel-and-eat shrimp to herb-crusted rockfish and oysters Rockefeller. Chicken, beef and bourbon meat loaf ensure carnivores won’t go hungry.

Where to Dock:  Annapolis Town Dock

Marker Five
Tilghman, MD

Every visit to the Bay’s Eastern Shore holds the promise of exceptional seafood along unforgettable waterfronts. From Marker Five’s outdoor patio, you can watch watermen chug along Knapp’s Narrows and marvel as the Tilghman Island Drawbridge rises to let boats pass through. Eagles soar overhead while you peruse the menu of classic Chesapeake fare.  It’s almost impossible to resist starters such as Maryland crab soup or smoked corn and crab fritters, and your first bite of pulled pork, buttermilk fried chicken biscuit or pan-fried monkfish will delight your tastebuds.

Where to Dock:  Knapp’s Narrows Marina & Inn

Virginia

Portside Grill on Urbanna Creek
Urbanna, VA

Located in the heart of Virginia’s oyster-growing region, this family-owned and pet-friendly restaurant specializes in taking local seafood from the water to the table. At Urbanna’s only waterfront eatery, you can tie up along the bulkhead and kick back on the patio for casual dining with a spectacular view.  Crab tots and fresh oysters will whet your appetite for a Southern style meal of crab cakes, shrimp and grits, and chicken stuffed with Smithfield ham and goat cheese.

Where to Dock:  Regatta Point Yachting Center

Deltaville Tap & Raw Bar
Deltaville, VA

In a charming cove along Jackson Creek where the Piankatank River flows into the Bay, you’ll find a seafood eatery with an energetic vibe, live music and a nice sampling of craft brews and cocktails. The expansive view from the back deck matches the extensive list of dishes on the menu.  Highlights include hush puppies packed with crab and corn, Jonah crab claws, shucked oysters, and Lowcountry boils with crawfish, shrimp and other local catch. Try to leave room for dessert favorites: deluxe peanut butter pie or raspberry cheesecake.

Where to Dock:  Deltaville Yachting Center

The Surry Seafood Company
Surry, VA

A leisurely cruise up the James River to Gray’s Creek will deliver you to a seafood-centric destination where you can dock, dine and decompress.  Surry’s chefs present delicacies from the local waters such as golden fried oysters, bacon-wrapped salmon and flounder stuffed with crab imperial. If the serene view of the grassy marshlands makes you want to linger longer, spacious hotel suites are available above the restaurant. Boater bonuses: 45 new floating docks, fuel, ship store and bathhouse.

Where to Dock:  The Marina at Smithfield Station

Longboards at East Beach

Norfolk, VA

The green bamboo shoots on the menu’s border give a clue that this restaurant is blessed with a touch of tiki.  While seafood standards remain popular — she-crab soup, cod fish and chips, and Old Bay wings — Longboards also takes you on a culinary journey to Polynesia to taste Hawaiian-inspired dishes such as Singapore shrimp with veggies and Waikiki wings. Enjoy the restaurant’s upbeat atmosphere and stellar sunsets at the marina.

Where to Dock:  Morningstar Marinas at Little Creek

Stripers Waterside
Norfolk, VA

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Where to Dock: Ocean Yacht Marina or Tidewater Yacht Marina

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What's Brewing in Baltimore?
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Remnants of a “Vote Against Prohibition” sign still linger in faded letters on a brick wall in Baltimore — a true representation of the city’s historical love for a brew. 

From the clipper ships that brought beer from Germany during the Revolutionary War to the birthplace of the beloved Natty Boh, Baltimore is not only rich in maritime and war traditions — it’s also known as a beer city. 

Baltimore boasts a nice selection of well-known bars and swanky restaurants, but you may not realize how many experimental breweries and eclectic taprooms are located just down the street. 

From serving ice-cold pints on a hot summer day to offering taproom tastings and outdoor events, these local breweries present unique, homemade craft beers in an entertaining atmosphere. The following locations explore antique structures, historic warehouses and a barn-turned-brewhouse in Baltimore City and County.

BALTIMORE CITY

Diamondback Brewing Company

1215 E. Fort Avenue
Locust Point

A garage-style window opens above high-top seating in this south Baltimore brewery — a perfect summertime hangout.  The experimental production brewery serves unfiltered lagers, hop forward ales and pizza in a lively urban atmosphere. Try the Maple Thief oatmeal stout, the Green Machine IPA or the American Locust Point Lager alongside a signature seasonal scratch-made house pizza such as the Howard, made with pulled duck confit, smoked provolone, onion, parsley and “Pee-Paw’s Secret BBQ Sauce.”

Ministry of Brewing

1900 E. Lombard Street
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The stunning structure of the former St. Michaels Church in East Baltimore has high ceilings lined by archways with golden trim, colorful murals and a gorgeous organ on the second floor balcony overlooking an open space where pews used to sit. Originally opened in 1857, this church that once provided refuge to German Catholics was abandoned in 2011 and is now one of the city’s hottest brewery hangouts. Long beer hall-style tables and high-tops now fill the spacious renovated church. Biblical scriptures are written above where the taproom’s bar serves a selection of rotating beers such as the Old Maude brown ale, The Point pilsner and 9.9 Problems imperial stout.

The Brewer’s Art

1106 N. Charles Street
Mount Vernon

This hip and artsy brewery matches the vibe of the quirky neighborhood and local community. Built as a private residence in the early 1900s, the vintage townhouse remains in the same classical style as it looked centuries ago with a slight transformation into a cozy taproom. Each room provides a different feel from the upscale dining room to the gritty Downbar and the cozy upstairs lounge. While most breweries only offer beer, this location pours everything from house brews to red, white, rosé and sparkling wines, and craft cocktails.

Full Tilt Brewing

5604 York Road
Govans

This neighborhood brewery is all about live music, tasty drinks and providing a fun social atmosphere. Hosting everything from yoga classes to live acts and comedy shows, the brewery offers a full event calendar throughout the year. They often cater parties and sponsor fundraisers such as partnerships with Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care Shelter (BARCS) and Art with a Heart. The taproom is known for two famous brews: Hops the Cat American IPA and Dan’s Jams, a Swedish Fish sour ale. Complement your brew with spicy wings, honey sriracha-glazed Brussels sprouts or a juicy Full Tilt burger.

BALTIMORE COUNTY 

RavenBeer

8901 Yellow Brick Road, Suite B
Rosedale

As Baltimore icon Edgar Allan Poe was known for frequenting local city bars, this brewery pays homage to the writer with its own spin on classic American and German-style beer. Founder Stephen Demczuk began brewing when he was in Europe. Inspired by Poe’s writings, Demczuk named his concoctions after the famous literature. Variations include Annabel Lee White, a Belgian-style white beer with citrus, The Raven Special Lager, The Tell Tale Heart IPA and The Cask, a Bavarian double style IPA.

Heavy Seas Brewery

4615 Hollins Ferry Road
Halethorpe

Maryland breweries wouldn’t exist today if it weren’t for Heavy Seas founder Hugh Sisson. He pioneered the state’s first brewpub and helped pass laws allowing them to operate. This southwest Baltimore County location began as Clipper City Brewing in 1995, then later rebranded as Heavy Seas. Hang out at the bar, grab a burger from Koopers food truck or play cornhole in the game room. On Saturdays, listen for the bell ringing in the taproom for free tours. They also hold charity fundraisers and work with local artists who design the unique beer can graphics. The brewery has big plans this season to redesign the outdoor space with new landscaping and a patio area.

Guinness Open Gate Brewery | Photo by Alexa Zizzi

Guinness Open Gate Brewery

5101 Washington Boulevard
Halethorpe

As the first-ever Guinness brewery in the United States, this historic site was home to a distillery before the Dublin-based brewer arrived in 2017. Experience traditional and seasonal flavors made with hops from all over the world, as well as locally sourced ingredients. Most brews are made with Legacy Ale Yeast, used by Guinness for 100 years. Be sure to try the signature Baltimore Blonde, brewed here exclusively. Enjoy the three-acre outdoor beer garden, outdoor kitchen, taproom, restaurant, events such as summer movie nights, 30-minute tastings of four different beers, and free tours.

Farmacy Brewing

3100 Black Rock Road
Reisterstown

Deep within Baltimore County’s horse country, this working farm raises horses and cattle, and grows hay, fruits, vegetables and row crops. This family-run brewery resides at the gorgeous Willowdale Farm, where a 3.5-barrel brewhouse is open for tours. Surrounded by horse pastures, barns and acres of farmland, a nine-stall horse stable was converted into a tasting room. Guests can picnic and enjoy the day strolling through a beautiful orchard.

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