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Mission Crab Cake: Pick Your Own

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pickin’ and grinnin’ Suffice it to say, there isn’t a crab house in the state that doesn’t serve crab cakes, which is great. But because you can pick your own blues at these places, they exist in a realm of their own.

The Boondocks  It may be surrounded by wheat fields, but this place, just west of Woodland Beach, is pure Delaware Bay. You’ll be crackin’ and peelin’ amid shelves of duck decoys, stuffed mallards and a mounted wood duck. The porch is full of picnic benches. The dining rooms feature easy-to-clean linoleum floors. The signature drink: Swampwater, a concoction of coconut-flavored rum, Island Punch Pucker schnapps, sour mix and OJ with a squirt of Sierra Mist. Oh, my. 825 Lighthouse Road, Smyrna, 653-6962.

Claws Seafood House  Warm-wood trim inside, a screened porch outside—it’s just the setting for steamed crabs. Order by the dozen or by the half dozen. If you’re walking in downtown Rehoboth, this renovated cottage is the only game in town—and it’s a good one. The fried oysters also rock. 167 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-2529, 227claw.com.

The Crab House  Leave it to the Sugrue brothers of Big Fish Grill to open a crab house worthy of the name. New in the spring, it’s clean and bright, so you can see what you’re picking. Non-pickers (sacrilege!) will appreciate delicious entrées from its sister restaurant. 19598 Coastal Hwy., Rehoboth Beach, 227-2019, crabhouserehoboth.com.

Fenwick Crab House  The éminence grise of Delaware crab houses, Fenwick has been slinging trays of hot crabs for more than 50 years, proving that owner Scott Fornwalt and his crew know what they’re doing. You’ll enjoy the other seafood selections as well. 100 Coastal Hwy., Fenwick Island, 539-2500,  fenwickcrabhouse.com.

Hill Top Crab House  It’s bar stools and beer lights at its core, with a big, breezy front porch. Call ahead to check on availability. There’s a special on various seafood dishes most nights of the week. You’ll like the easy vibe. 8980 Gap Newport Pike, Toughkenamon, Pa., (610) 268-2766, hilltopcrabhouse.com.

Lazy Susan’s Seafood Deli  We enjoy the wide-open room of the replica lifesaving station as much as the back porch full of picnic tables. We absolutely love the friendly servers. Laid-back, unpretentious, fun, Lazy Susan’s is everything a crab house at the beach should be. 18289 Coastal Hwy., Lewes, 645-5115.

Lestardo’s Crab House  The tavern-like vibe of Lestardo’s has been drawing those in the know for years. The dining room is decorated with exposed beams, nets, stuffed fish and the like—including one gigantic blue crab. A big bar dominates one side. It’s a straight-up, blue-collar place, as it should be. 135 Christiana Road, New Castle, 328-5070.

Mickey’s Family Crab House  Mickey’s participates in the Maryland-certified True Blue program, which means your crabs are guaranteed to be local. In true Sussex fashion, the all-you-can-eat deal includes fried chicken. What other foods go together so harmoniously? 39610 Jefferson Bridge Road, Bethany Beach, 539-5384, mickeysfamilycrabhouse.com.

The Old Mill Crab House  It’s the go-to place in Western Sussex, whether for your typical night of picking or celebrating a special occasion. We like everything about it, from the rustic decor to servers who know you by name. The fresh fish of the day is always recommended. Del. 54 and Waller Road, Delmar, 846-9000, oldmillcrabhouse.com.

Sambo’s Tavern  Picking at iconic Sambo’s is as Delaware as it gets. The tavern (21 and over, please) is known far and wide for serving only local crabs topped with coarse salt. (Even between two bodies of water as close as the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays, there is a difference in flavor.) Your view from the main room is the Leipsic River, where the watermen who supply the crabs dock their boats. 283 Front St., Leipsic, 674-9724.

The Surfing Crab  The long blue building on the highway is just far enough from the beach—not that it deters the crowds. You won’t mind the wait. It’s all business for crab lovers. Order by the dozen or the half, or go for all you can eat. (You get two hours.) The Surfing Crab does a brisk takeout business, too. 16723 Coastal Hwy., Lewes, 644-4448, thesurfingcrab.com.

The Taproom Crabhouse  You can always count on The Taproom to have swimmers all year. It’s straightforward and clean. You can’t go wrong with seafood, but the menu also offers some Italian favorites. 201 Bohemia Ave, Chesapeake City, Md., (410) 885-2344, taproomcrabhouse.com.