Born to Old Bay

This native Baltimorean had no trouble keeping up on the hunt for great crab houses.

By my seventh crab house, I was feeling the overload of Old Bay and crustaceans. But I did what any native Baltimorean would do. I kept on crackin’—and happily. It’s my native food, after all.

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Not that Marylanders have a monopoly on steamed crabs. Delaware has plenty of roll-up-your-sleeves, bring-on-the-mallets crab shacks. In fact, we found 18 places from Sussex to New Castle County and across the state borders to gather with friends and family for an old-fashioned crab feast. A bonus: When you eat out, you don’t have to do the cleanup.

For our research, managing editor Drew Ostroski, senior writer Mark Nardone and I hit the road, visiting the various crab houses to be able to give you an idea of what to expect at each one. You’ll find the results of our, um, labor, on page 68.

From the banks of the Leipsic River to sleepy Smyrna and bustling Rehoboth to a great find at The Wellwood in Charlestown, Md., we feasted on the mighty blue crab. It was early in the season, so many of the crabs came from North Carolina and elsewhere. But they were prepared just the way they should be—steamed and coated with a blend of spices that most restaurants customize.

For me, every visit was a step back in time—a flashback to sultry summer nights in our Baltimore row-house backyard when pounding on wooden picnic tables, covered with the morning’s newspaper, resounded throughout the neighborhood as kids begged their parents for crab claws and fireflies twinkled in the night.

It was a right of passage to eventually earn a spot on the picnic bench, where you were initiated into the mysterious, adult ways of picking a crab. Everyone has a method, and we include one on page 75 to get you started if you’re a crab novice or need a refresher course.

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The most important thing that was drilled into my brothers and sisters and I when we were young was not to eat the “devil” (gills) ever. We were told we would die. (Leave it to Mom to go for the drama.) It’s a myth, but that’s all I needed to avoid and fear the spongy fingers for the rest of my life.

I’m not proud of this, but I have passed along this misinformation to my 12-year-old stepson, just in case. He heeds my warning just like every kid in my generation did, and has learned to love steamed crabs as much as I do. He can pick with the best of them.

Eating crabs with a group is really the goal. It’s not just about eating chunks of luscious crabmeat. It’s also about the communal experience of digging into a local cuisine and sharing conversation and laughter. Really, how serious can you be covered in crab muck?

Even if you’re crab averse, I urge you to sit at a table with a bunch of crab pickers, sip a cold brew—I’m partial to Natty Boh for this meal. Save the craft beer for another time—and enjoy the camaraderie and good will of a tradition unique to the Mid-Atlantic. It’s a treasured birthright. Lucky us.

Executive Editor Suzanne Loudermilk

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