Best of Lists

Chesapeake Bay's Best Crab Decks

Mid-Atlantic
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July 2017
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By
Susan
Elnicki Wade

Around the Bay, images of the iconic red crustacean appear everywherefrom flags, hats and T-shirts to bumper stickers, menus and refrigerator magnets. Outsiders might wonder about a regional mascot with spindly little legs and oversized claws, but locals see this beloved aquatic creature as a symbol of summertime and a tasty reason for gathering family and friends.The ingredients for an authentic Chesapeake crab feast are quite simple: a bushel of live crabs still kicking and snapping their claws, a picnic table covered with brown paper, wooden mallets for cracking stubborn shells and bright yellow canisters of Old Bay seasoning. A waterfront view and a dash of sunshine set the mood for perfect picking. Patience is required while waiting 25 minutes for crabs to steam, so creamy coleslaw, hushpuppies, silver queen corn and a bucket of cold beer stand at the ready to stave off hunger. When piles of hot red crabs finally land on the table, the bay's favorite epicurean rumpus begins.Prying the shell open and liberating meat from the muck takes a little work. But when a nugget of tender jumbo lump reaches your tongue, you taste the essence of the bay and welcome the arrival of Chesapeake summer. If your stomach is now rumbling for sweet Maryland crabs, set your sites for these 12 destinations where you can eat your fill and savor the season's bounty.

CAPTAIN JAMES SEAFOOD PALACE & CRAB HOUSE - BALTIMORE, MD.

With a building that looks like a merchant ship docked on Boston Street and a wooden crab deck that floats above the waves, this family-owned restaurant has dished out fresh local seafood since the 1970s. Go for a dozen or all-youcan- eat steamed crabs accompanied by popular dishes such as crab soup, crab cakes and steamer pots bubbling with mussels, shrimp, clams or snow crab legs.

MIKE'S CRAB HOUSE NORTH - ARNOLD, MD.

Just off the Patapsco River awaits a crab picker's paradise that gets everything just right. The long waterfront deck holds rows of picnic tables shaded by umbrellas as red as the steamed crabs and shrimp beneath them. Music flows from the outdoor bar, where cool cocktails and brews magically appear in your hand. The spacious indoor dining area pays tribute to Bay watermen with nautical artwork and vintage photographs.

JIMMY CANTLER'S RIVERSIDE INN - ANNAPOLIS, MD.

It takes five generations of watermen to create a place as crab-friendly as Cantler's. Daily catch from the bay rolls in every morning on fishing boats, giving each seafood dish a freshness that's second to none. Families and neighbors pick crabs on the outdoor deck while children play on the pier. In shedding tanks near the water, crabs molt their outer shells and are brought to the kitchen to become fried soft-shell delicacies.

SKIPPER'S PIER RESTAURANT & DOCK BAR - DEALE, MD.

It's no surprise that a town like Deale that's packed with so many boats would be home to a fantastic waterside restaurant. Recent renovations to the double-deck dock bar make sunsets over Rockhold Creek an unforgettable experience. New chefs and an upgraded menu conjure up innovative dishes such as crab bruschetta and crab-crusted broiled oysters. Traditional steamers of crabs, clams and mussels remain big crowd pleasers.

GILLIGAN'S PIER - NEWBURG, MD.

If you prefer to pick crabs in a tropical setting, this is the place for you. Gilligan's 1.5-acre beach along the Potomac River, with dozens of swaying palm trees and tiki bars overflowing with orange crushes, creates an idyllic summer getaway. The menu is laced with crab dishes and gives a nod to the 1970s shipwreck sitcom with items such as Mary Anne's Salads, The Professor's Sandwiches and Thurston's fried seafood baskets.

WATERMAN'S CRAB HOUSE RESTAURANT & DOCK BAR - ROCK HALL, MD.

When a menu touts locally caught steamed crabs, along with award-winning stuffed rockfish and jumbo lump crab cakes, you've hit the seafood lovers' lottery. Plus, it's hard to resist the spectacular sunsets, live bands on weekends and 30 deep-water slips at this Upper Bay paradise. Caribbean steel drums on Sunday afternoon will make you consider calling in sick to work on Monday morning.

FISHERMAN'S INN & CRAB DECK - GRASONVILLE, MD.

A trinity of heavenly crabitude awaits on Kent Island: Fisherman's Inn Restaurant with the Nauti Mermaid Bar, the bustling waterfront Crab Deck and a seafood market to carry out all kinds of delectable seafood. Watch watermen unload bushels of crabs that are cooked to old-school bay standards and then served at your table. Steamed variety pots invite you to sample a medley of crabs, shrimp, clams and mussels.

THE CRAB CLAW RESTAURANT - ST. MICHAELS, MD.

The building was a clam- and oystershucking house in the 1950s, morphed into a seafood restaurant in 1965 and has been a haven for traditional Chesapeake seafood ever since. Waitresses deliver heavy trays piled high with steamed crabs to the waterfront deck, while guests inside the two-story dining rooms enjoy vintage maritime décor and a bird's eye view of St. Michael's beautiful harbor.

TIM'S II AT FAIRVIEW BEACH RESTAURANT & CRAB HOUSE - KING GEORGE, VA.

Dining out on a long wooden pier with a panoramic view is hard to beat. Tim's II has that fun waterfront set-up yet takes things up a notch with 12-foot tall red and yellow plastic palm trees, a beach area, live bands and cocktail tables sunk waist-high in the waves. Classic bay seafood dominates the menu with hot crabs, steamed shrimp and fish tacos leading the pack. Sunsets here are legendary.

URBANNA SEAFOOD MARKET & RAW BAR - URBANNA, VA.

The amiable market staff offers to wrap up seafood meals as carry-out, but the location along Robinson Creek is so lovely you'll want to dock your boat and stay for a while. Red and blue tarps are stretched across the wooden deck to protect diners from the sun's rays while they devour scrumptious home-style seafood. Steamer buckets of crabs, shrimp, clams and mussels are ideal for lazy summer days. The oysters are phenomenal.

THE SHANTY - CAPE CHARLES, VA.

It's new but authentic, traditional yet innovative. With only a few years under its dining service belt, The Shanty artfully combines opposing culinary concepts by tapping into the easy-going spirit of Virginia's Eastern Shore. Food here is simple and fresh “ pulled straight out of the bay just before it hits your plate. After a hearty meal, parents can soak up magnificent views while kids keep themselves busy with cornhole and other games.

CRAB SHACK SEAFOOD RESTAURANT - NEWPORT NEWS, VA.

Located between a beach area and fishing pier overlooking the James River, this place is all about water, sun and local seafood. Since 1993, it has specialized in steamed hard-shell crabs and sautéed soft shells that are nurtured in shedding tanks on site. An impressive raw bar is stocked with regionally harvested oysters. The casual, family-friendly atmosphere makes it a terrific place to bring the entire crew for the day.

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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

Ouzo Beach
Baltimore, MD

A stroll along Harbor East’s waterfront promenade can make you feel like you walked into the courtyard of a Greek villa.  Ouzo Beach, an extension of Ouzo Bay Mediterranean Kouzina, is decked out in lush greenery, elegant light fixtures and charming brick gates.  Under a 75-foot wooden trellis, guests relish the delicate herbs dusted across seafood ranging from colossal crab cakes and grilled octopus to tuna tartare and lobster tail. Toasted pita is divine with hummus, dates and goat cheese.

Where to Dock:  Harbor East 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

The bustle of Norfolk’s recently renovated Waterside District is attracting newcomers from along the Atlantic seaboard. Among the new eateries is Stripers, a seafood haven from the Outer Banks that features 30 beers on tap and a panoramic view of the Elizabeth River. Take a seat on the patio and savor dishes made from scratch, from clams and cod to mussels and shrimp.  After a hearty meal, explore the area’s attractions and nightlife.

Where to Dock: Ocean Yacht Marina or Tidewater Yacht Marina

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Cappy’s Crabs & the Chesapeake Feast
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My grandfather Cappy’s love of the water started with visits to his cousins’ house on the Potomac River. He was 14 when he built his first boat from a mail-order kit. Some of his fondest early memories on the water were the fishing charters his uncle would take him on and the bucket of fried chicken he’d bring along. Later in life, this motivated him to buy property on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay where I spent my summers as a child.  

Life on the Bay with a gaggle of cousins (18 of us) was a highlight of my childhood. We had free reign over the cul-de-sac populated by beach houses owned by my grandparents and their six adult children. When I was young, I would wake up with the sun and race to the window to assess the water conditions. The soft waves of early morning and glass surface made the best conditions for crabbing. 

All the cousins would meet at our grandparent’s house to grab chicken necks from the freezer and nets from the closet before rushing down to the dock. There weren’t enough nets to go around, but that hardly stopped us from crowding the dock in the cool dawn air in various states of dress, between pajamas and bathing suits. Each crab we caught was celebrated, sexed, sized and placed in our crab pot in the shallows under the dock until lunch. 

When my grandma Molly got out the crab pot and tongs, it was show time. My grandmother with a pair of tongs and feisty crustaceans are more evenly matched than you might expect. A few crabs near the top of the big pot always manage to hurl themselves over the edge, only to land in the boiling mac ‘n cheese water pot nearby. 

We would dress the picnic table in the front yard with newspaper, mallets and dishes of vinegar and Old Bay. Seated at an exclusive table away from the adults, we smashed, picked and dipped to our heart’s content. “Pass the vinegar!” “Is there a mallet I can use?” “Can you help me get the meat out?” “May I have another crab, please?” 

This relaxed and fun-loving atmosphere inspired my grandparents to start their own crab shack in nearby Deale, MD. Eponymously named for my grandfather, Cappy’s Crabs sits over Rockhold Creek near Harbour Cove Marina. Every weekend in the summer, you can find Grandma in the kitchen and Poppy behind the bar, with kids and grandkids helping in the kitchen or waiting tables. The restaurant has an expansive deck with five slips, some large enough for a 40-foot vessel. 

Like most of Cappy’s float-up guests, the seafood on the menu comes from the Chesapeake. The menu changes according to the seafood seasons and pricing, but also to the whim of my grandmother and each diner. Catering to generations of dietary restrictions and picky eaters has made her a versatile and creative chef. Guests can always expect seafood and fried chicken in an array of forms from cakes and sandwiches to the star ingredient in one of the multiple salads available. 

Side dishes feature macaroni and cheese and an array of veggies such as beet salad or broccoli salad. More traditional summer treats such as corn and coleslaw make a heralded appearance on the menu. Family favorites such as French fries and cornbread round out any meal. 

Some say it’s best to have wings with your crabs, picnic style at one of the outdoor tables covered in paper. Watching marina traffic and listening to the waves underneath you is the perfect way to break up a day on the water. Order an orange crush from the bar, and your Maryland summer crab feast is complete!  

Cappy’s Coleslaw

A fresh, lighter take on the traditional creamy coleslaw recipe.

Ingredients

½ medium cabbage

3 scallions

2 carrots 

¾ cup of peanuts

Juice of 1 lime

1 Tbsp rice vinegar 

1 Tbsp fish sauce

1 Tbsp canola oil

Salt & pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Grate carrots
  • Chop cabbage and scallions into thin slices
  • Add ingredients to a large bowl; dress and toss well

Makes about 6 servings.

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Nauti Shopper: Identify your new discoveries with these apps and guides
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RESOURCEFUL APPS

FISHVERIFY

Available on Google Play, the Apple App Store and Galaxy Store

This fish finder app lets anglers discover saltwater and freshwater catches with the snap of a picture. Take a live shot or import photos and the AI technology works its magic. Learn about marine habitats and check weather conditions including winds, tides, water temperature and barometric pressure. (Free download; premium subscription is $29.99/year) fishverify.com

SHELL MUSEUM: IDENTIFY SHELLS

Available on Google Play and the Apple App Store
Take photos of your shoreline discoveries and this innovative app helps you figure out what they are and the sea creature that built it. Thanks to the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum in Sanibel, FL, beachcombers can now identify most common shells found across Florida beaches in seconds. ($1.99 download) shellmuseum.org

ARGO: BOATING NAVIGATION

Available on Google Play and the Apple App Store

This navigation and social boating app offers satellite, terrain and NOAA map features, depth and contours, trip planning, voyage tracking and a captain’s log for itineraries. Find points of interest such as fuel docks, anchorages, marinas and restaurants. The social boating features helps you connect with the boating community (Free download) argonav.io

SPECIES GUIDEBOOKS

REEF FISH IDENTIFICATION — FLORIDA, CARIBBEAN, BAHAMAS

By Paul Humann and Ned Deloach

Whether you’re a southern angler or marine wildlife documenter, you’ll love combing through 1,000 photographs of more than 683 species in this book. Designed as a reference guide, this new 4th edition identifies fish and aquatic creatures throughout the waterways of Florida, the Caribbean and Bahamas. ($44.95) reef.org/products/reef-fish-identification-florida-caribbean-and-bahamas-4th-edition

KAUFMAN FIELD GUIDE TO BIRDS OF NORTH AMERICA

by Kenn Kaufman Kaufman Field Guides

This guide has been a leading birdlife guidebook for decades. Vibrant photos, detailed descriptions and range maps illustrate a lively key for bird-watching excursions. The book is compact, easily portable and studies most species in North America. (Prices vary)
kaufmanfieldguides.com/birds.html

THE TRACKER’S HANDBOOK: HOW TO IDENTIFY AND TRAIL ANY ANIMAL

By Len McDougall

Whether you’re hunting for dinner, hiking or being an avid nature lover, this guide makes animal tracking easy. Discover North American species such as the American Elk and Whitetail Deer. Identify footprints, habitats and range. This book isn’t just for hunters; it’s for explorers of all kinds. ($34.56)

barnesandnoble.com/w/the-trackers-handbook-len-mcdougall/1118940778

JUNIOR EXPLORER

SKY GUIDE APP

Available on Google Play and the Apple App Store

Point a smartphone to the sky and suddenly you appear in your own planetarium with this stargazing app. Sky Guide locates your position and follows the stars in real time while superimposing constellations and figures interactively. Find planets in rotation, discover where Pisces is currently rising or catch the next meteor shower.($1.99 download) apps.apple.com/us/app/sky-guide/id576588894

OCEAN ANIMALSCOLLECTION SERIES

National Geographic Kids
Children will become overnight marine biologists with this fun learning series. Young readers can spot sea otters, manatees, turtles and much more. Teach your kids about aquatic habitats with photography and unique fun facts on each species. ($17.99)

barnesandnoble.com/w/ocean-animals-collection-national-geographic-kids/1123056379

OUTDOOR SCIENCE LAB

SmartLab Toys

This outdoor set brings out kids’ inner scientific explorer. Examining bugs, plants, dirt, weather and more. Activities include testing various samples and tracking findings in a science log. Kids can enjoy after-dark exploration with the UV night scope. ($45)

shopsweetthreads.com/products/smartlab-toys-outdoor-science-lab-bugs-dirt-plants

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