Prime Pickin's

From Lewes to Fenwick Island, there are a bushel of crab houses. So crack to your heart’s content.

Kara Berger, (from left) owner Tim Haley, and Silvia Bors break out the crabs at The Blue Crab in Bethany Beach. Photograph by Tom NutterOutside the Eastern Shore, the Delaware beaches provide one of the best settings for crab-picking. Maybe it’s the salt air or the smell of the brackish bay. Regardless, there’s something about the sea that whets your appetite for a pile of scarlet steamed crabs. “It’s really one of the things people do here,” says Tim Haley, owner of The Blue Crab in Bethany Beach. “They go to the beach and they pick crabs. It’s part of their vacation experience.” 

Fall is one of the best times for blue crabs. The crustaceans have long left their beds in the water’s muddy bottom, where they burrow in the cool months. They’ve shed their shells to accommodate growth spurts, and they’ve filled out, making for a larger, meatier meal.

September is a great time for the Chesapeake Bay crabs,” says Don Vechery, who opened The Surfing Crab (16723 Coastal Highway, Lewes, 644-4448) in late May. You might say crabs run in his family. His father, Henry, has owned the Bethesda Crab House in Maryland for more than 48 years. Vechery chose to open a restaurant at the beach so as not to compete with his father. “He has the D.C. market covered.”

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Like his father, Vechery is devoted to doing crabs the right way. Instead of flash-cooking them, which takes 10 to 12 minutes, the crabs are steamed in a stockpot on the range, which takes about 20 minutes. “We’re old school,” Vechery says.

For 25 years, crab-happy tourists have scrambled to Lazy Susan’s Crabs (18289 Coastal Highway, Lewes, 645-5115), which in 2007 moved from its longtime location, practically across the highway, to its current spot, more than doubling its seating. “We were able to purchase this property,” says owner Susan Fluharty. “Before, we just rented.”

But with the same picnic tables, the same crab-themed art and the same pipin’ hot crabs, old-timers still feel right at home. There is still outdoor seating. The difference is an expanded menu, which offers more seafood caught off the coast. “It’s fresh, fresh, fresh,” Fluharty says.

Claws Crab House (167 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-CLAW), which opened in 2006, is downtown Rehoboth’s first crab house. Frequent visitors may recall that the distinctive house, built in 1889, was formerly the home of Java Beach. The rustic dining room, a fitting home for a down-and-dirty crab feast, features architectural remnants from old barns, including a wood bar, tin ceilings and photographs that salute Sussex County’s maritime history.

The Crab Room at the Lighthouse Cove in Ruddertowne (124 Dickinson St., Dewey Beach, 227-4333) features all-you-can-eat blue crabs, snow crabs, shrimp or a shrimp-and-snow crab combo. In case you haven’t been keeping up, The Lighthouse Cove is a blend of the old Crabber’s Cove and the Lighthouse. Downstairs is the more upscale dining element—just in case someone in your party longs for beef tenderloin. Or hop on over to the Lighthouse part—just the Lighthouse this time—for burgers and cheese fries.

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Ask Ed Riggin to describe the decor at Ed’s Chicken and Crabs (Highway One and Swedes St., Dewey Beach, 227-9484) and you’ll get a hearty laugh. “It’s shack-ish,” he says. No problem. Most of the 200 seats at the 32-year-old landmark are outside—simple picnic tables on the sidewalk, all shaded with umbrellas. Ed’s sells crabs by the dozen. “We’ve got medium, large and jumbo,” Riggin says. Many diners split a dozen and share other selections. “We’re heavy on crab cakes, shrimp and a lot of chicken,” he says. There’s no table service. Order at the window, wait to hear your name called, then carry your catch to an open seat.

The atmosphere aims higher at The Blue Crab (210 Garfield Pkwy., Bethany Beach, 527-4700), where Tiffany-style lamps dangle over tables covered with the telltale brown paper. Each table gets an Old Bay tin—for shrimp and fries, not crabs. “We use a rock salt-based spice for crabs,” Haley says. The restaurant also boasts “crabby” artwork by Baltimore artist John Brown and oil paintings by local artist Jennifer Carter.

Naturally, crabs are the top seller. (Crab cakes, made with jumbo lump crabmeat, are a close second.) The all-you-can-eat special is a feast: blue crabs, corn, fried chicken and hush puppies. The restaurant also offers snow crab and Alaskan king crab.

Mickey’s Family Crab House (222 Jefferson Bridge Road, Bethany Beach, 539-5384) is located right on Del. 1, across from Sea Colony. It is outfitted with picnic tables covered with brown paper. Most people order crabs—the all-you-can-eat special includes corn-on-the-cob—but crab cakes and peel-and-eat-shrimp are hot, too.

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Farther south, the Fenwick Crab House (100 Coastal Highway, Fenwick Island, 539-2500) has been packing them in since 1962. Owner Scott Fornwalt purchased the landmark in 1983. The restaurant’s reputation is built on the backs of jumbo and extra-large crabs, which are liberally dusted with a custom blend of spices. Of course, the eclectic decor, which features antique signs and a model train, is also a draw. The all-you-can-eat option includes crabs, corn-on-the-cob, fried chicken, jambalaya and steamed shrimp. You might want to save room for the crab cakes, which are so celebrated that Fenwick Crab House ships them all over the country year round. “They’re a big Christmas item,” Fornwalt says.

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