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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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

Upper Fells Point/Highlandtown

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

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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Battle of the Crustaceans: Lobsters vs. Crabs
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Best Region for the Season

lobster - this or that - marinalife
Courtesy of Justine G

Lobster

New England and Canada are known as major lobster hubs along the Atlantic, and Maine is one of the most famous regions in the world for these mouth-watering delicacies. For the freshest catch, Maine's top lobster-loving towns include Rockland, Bar Harbor, Belfast, Georgetown, Harpswell, Kennebunk and Ogunquit.

Crab

More than 6,000 species of crabs across the world vary in everything from appearance to taste. For example, Maryland crab fans meticulously pick the meat from under the crab's shell, while in Florida, they split open the legs and claws for a tasty treat. To experience the best Maryland blue crabs, visit cities such as Baltimore and Annapolis, as well as Kent Island on the Chesapeake Bay's Eastern Shore and Solomons Island in southern Maryland.

Habitat

crab - this or that - marinalife
Blue Crab | Courtesy of Pakhnyushchy

Lobster

Although they are mostly ocean creatures, lobsters do frequently appear on land and sea. They are omnivores and sometimes eat their own when confined or stressed. You can find them throughout the world's oceans in freshwater and brackish environments. Some of the most delicious species are caught in the Gulf of Maine and along coastal Nova Scotia.

Crab

Typically found in saltwater or brackish water, thousands of different crab species live in all of the world's oceans. Like lobsters, some are land-crawlers. Many solely live in the water and others inhabit the edges along rocks and sandy shores. The best crustacean havens for crabbing include Maryland, Virginia and Delaware. Florida stone crabs are found in southern waters in shallow, rocky locations including knee-deep seagrass beds and reefs.

Traditional Recipes

Lobster

The sweet taste of lobster pairs well with your taste buds in any variation. Cook it in a gamut of dishes from steaming, grilling or boiling, to chopped-up in a warm soup or cold salad. Some of the most famous classics include a New England lobster boil, baked lobster tail, lobster mac and cheese, creamy bisque and much more.

Crab

Pick-and-eat crab feasts are a beloved pastime across the mid-Atlantic region. Catch, steam, season, crack open and scarf down! Use a mallet to break the claws open and get the good thick meat. Two varieties of crab soup creamy or tomato-based are popular along the East Coast, as well as dishes such as crab dip, crab Rangoon, crab pretzels and best of all the world-famous Maryland crab cakes.

Fun Facts

lobster - this or that - marinalife
Lobster Dish | Courtesy of BDMcIntosh

Lobster

Lobsters actually have two stomachs and can detach a limb and grow it back during their molting cycle. Today, lobsters are among the pricier seafood selections and are considered a delicacy, but that wasn't always the case. In early 19th century New England, lobsters were so abundant that their shells were used as fertilizer and their meat was fed to pigs as scraps.

Crab

Crabs are typically an aggressive crustacean and often fight with other crabs and aquatic creatures. They can walk in any direction and mostly scurry sideways. Unlike lobsters that can live to age 100, Atlantic crabs only survive for three to four years. Dungeness Crabs from Alaska can live up to 13 years, and the Japanese spider crab has the longest lifespan of all its fellow crustaceans, often reaching 80 to 100 years old.

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Cruising the Great Loop Taught Us How to Cook
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nyc skyline - food - marinalife
Kate and her husband Tim

Before embarking on the Great Loop, my husband Tim and I lived in New York City, which helped prepare us somewhat for life on the water. We took our clothes to a laundromat, hand washed our dishes, and understood the challenges of living in a small space. But given it's one of the culinary capitals of the world, living in Manhattan didn't teach us how to cook. Since living on our boat, a 31-foot 1996 Camano Troll named Sweet Day, we had to change our relationship with the kitchen, which means we actually had to use it. Here's what we learned.

Be Creative with What We Have

While cruising the Great Loop, we imagined tiki bars and restaurants dotting the shorelines everywhere we stopped. This is definitely true in some parts. But more times than expected, we found ourselves nowhere near a place to grab a meal, much less a grocery store.This means we've learned how to build meals with what we have onboard. We also realized that as long as we have flour and a little butter, homemade tortillas can easily transform a couple sides into tasty tacos and easily impress neighbors at the next docktail party.

Rarely Waste Food

In the daily hustle of our lives in the city, we ended up wasting a lot more food than we'd like to admit. The opposite has been true while cruising. We typically buy enough fresh food for three to four meals, because that's all we can fit in our fridge. A home-cooked dinner is easily stretched to lunch the next day. And since we travel with our fridge, leftovers never get left behind.

No Need for Fancy Kitchen Gadgets

We have a small propane oven and a three-burner stove. We can use these with barely any electricity, making cooking underway and at anchor seamless. When we're plugged into a marina or if we run our generator, we can also use our microwave (when it's not being used as a food pantry).Some cruisers have Instapots and other gadgets, but our boat isn't set up to handle that amount of electricity. Plus, we don't have the space. So, we've had to learn (with a lot of practice) how to cook juicy chicken or tender salmon without the benefits of modern cooking technology.

Access Our Kitchen 24/7

One of the biggest (and underrated) benefits of cruising is that your stuff travels with you, including your kitchen. This means we can make a marinade while cruising and cook the chicken at anchor that night. Or knead a loaf of bread underway to make sure it's ready to bake the next day. Plus, you never have to worry about forgetting olive oil or spices when on a trip. Spending time and experimenting in the kitchen helps break up those long cruising days too, all while rewarding us with a tasty meal once we reach our destination.

Know the Steps Ahead of Time to Plan a Meal

One quirk of our galley is we can only run the oven or the stove, as our propane system can't support running both at the same time. As a result, it requires knowing the recipe and its steps in advance to ensure we have the right equipment and ability to cook the meal. If the meal is good enough to be part of the rotation, the steps become easier to remember the next time we cook it.

Learn What Meals We Can Make Quickly

Just like land life, there are days when we may feel excited about prepping and cooking a more time-intensive meal, and others when we're hungry, it's 7:00 p.m. and we just need to get something in our stomach. In New York, that meant heading downstairs for a slice of pizza.

lunch aboard - food - marinalife
Courtesy of Kate Raulin Carney

That doesn't work while cruising. Learning what meals take time (especially in Sweet Day's kitchen) and what meals can be thrown together quickly (hello mac and cheese and tuna fish) is extremely helpful. When we're stocking up on food, we make sure we have enough of those go-to meal items for those inevitable times when we just need something fast.To help you stock your galley, here are some of our favorite items:

  • High-quality all-purpose knife: Our Zwilling Santoku knife cuts pretty much everything we've cooked in the last year.
  • Dutch oven: This is perfect for baking fresh bread, making soups, rice and other meals. We store it in the oven while not in use.
  • Stainless steel French press: We didn't want to have to rely on electricity to make coffee, so our go-to is a sturdy French press. Plus, it's fun to get beans from local coffee shops.
  • New York Times cooking subscription: This app allows us to easily search tons of recipes and discover new dishes with ingredients we have on board.
  • Pre-cut parchment paper: I learned this from my dad. It keeps food from sticking to the pan and makes cleaning easy a big plus on a tiny boat, where you may need to clean the pan quickly to put another item in the oven.

SIMPLE FLOUR TORTILLAS

Here's our go-to recipe for an easy batch of tortillas. Some of our favorite ingredients for stuffing inside are pantry staples black beans and rice or roasted sweet potatoes with a charred scallion crema (Greek yogurt, mayo and scallions charred on a hot skillet).

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/4 cup room temperature butter (Can also replace with shortening, lard or vegetable oil)
  • 7/8 to 1 cup of hot water

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  2. Add the butter (if you're using vegetable oil, add it in step 3). Use your fingers to work the fat into the flour until it disappears.
  3. Pour in the lesser amount of hot water (plus the oil, if you're using it), and stir briskly with a fork or whisk to bring the dough together into a shaggy mass. Stir in additional water as needed to bring the dough together.
  4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead briefly, just until the dough forms a ball. If the dough is very sticky, gradually add abit more flour.
  5. Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Round the pieces into balls, flatten slightly and allow them to rest, covered, for about 30 minutes.If you wish, coat each ball lightly in oil before covering to ensure the dough doesn't dry out.
  6. While the dough rests, preheat an ungreased cast iron griddle or skillet over medium high heat, about 400°F.
  7. Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll into a round about 8 inches in diameter. Keep the remaining dough covered while you work. Fry the tortilla in the ungreased pan for about 30 seconds on each side. Wrap the tortilla in a clean cloth when it comes off the griddle to keep it pliable. Repeat with the remaining dough balls.
  8. If you have leftovers, allow them to cool completely, then wrap tightly in plastic and store in the refrigerator. Reheat in an ungreased skillet or for a few seconds in the microwave.

Recipe is from King Arthur Baking Company, kingarthurbaking.com/recipes/simple-tortillas-recipe. To follow Kate and Tim Carney's cruising adventures aboard Sweet Day, go to lifeonsweetday.com or @lifeonsweetday on Instagram.

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