Edited by Jane Marion

With Suzanne Loudermilk, Mike Unger, and Lydia Woolever


Spot Illustrations by Jason Schneider

Opening Spread: Styled by Janelle Erlichman Diamond. Hair & makeup: Brian Oliver and model: Kyler Garner, both from T.H.E. The Artist Agency. Shot on location at Schultz's Crab House.
Food & Drink

Edited by Jane Marion

With Suzanne Loudermilk, Mike Unger, and Lydia Woolever
Spot Illustrations by Jason Schneider
Opening Spread: Styled by Janelle Erlichman Diamond. Hair & makeup: Brian Oliver and model: Kyler Garner, both from T.H.E. The Artist Agency. Shot on location at Schultz's Crab House.

“How do I love thee?” Elizabeth Barrett Browning once asked. When it comes to Maryland crab, we can barely count the ways—there are just too many. But let us try to illustrate our ardor. Every state has its point of pride, from Maine blueberries to Idaho potatoes. Here, in the Mid-Atlantic, Maryland is for crab lovers. With no disrespect to oysters and rockfish, the blue crab reigns as the undisputed king of the Chesapeake Bay. And while they can be found as far north as Novia Scotia and far south as Uruguay, one-third of our country’s blue crab harvest hails from our local waters.

In Maryland, there are two seasons—crab season (that’s May through November) and waiting for crab season. The latter happens in the colder months when the crabs burrow into the bottom of the bay and hibernate through winter. As the thermostat rises, the crustaceans ascend with the warmer waters and swim into crab traps, when they’re as fine and fat as can be—not to mention salty-sweet and buttery in a way that’s unique to our brackish waters. Sure, you might travel to Birmingham or Boise and see a “Baltimore-style” or “Maryland-style” crab cake on the menu, but there’s no truth in that advertising. Ours are the best and we’re happy to throw down the gauntlet—make that the mallet—to anyone who argues otherwise. Unlike other blue crab states—that’s North Carolina, Texas, and Louisiana—where hard shells often get boiled, we steam our bay beauts, which means they stay mustardy and moist, and of course there’s our iconic home state brand of crab spice seasoning, Old Bay.

And while it may seem overly obvious, it must be said that there’s only one place to eat authentic Maryland crab—and that’s smack dab in the Old Line State, where an almost religious fervor surrounds this seafood. We do have a bit of bad news on that front: Due to the demand for this seasonal seafood, plus recurring visa issues for crab pickers, it’s not always possible to get actual Maryland crab. In fact, the majority of seafood houses—even in season—supplement their local catch with other domestic crab, while the meat can come from as far away as Asia. That said, other blues make for an acceptable alternative, since so many places don’t serve Maryland crab. Your best bet? Always ask where the crabmeat comes from.

Crabs have long been an essential local protein along the Chesapeake. As early as 1,200 B.C., these crustaceans were an important food source and continuously consumed through the 17th century, when Native Americans and early colonists enjoyed eating them. Although crab shells are fragile and friable, sites across the estuary have turned up their archeological remains, from such places as George Washington’s Mt. Vernon homestead to Sukeek’s Cabin, a 19th-century African-American residence in Calvert County.

Given this history, it’s safe to say our craving for crabs runs deep in our DNA—and this time of year that hankering kicks in with full force. And we don’t just limit ourselves to crab cakes, hard shells, or soup. We use crab everywhere: folded into dips; stuffed into dumplings; sprinkled atop pretzels, waffles, and deviled eggs; piled high on chicken cheesesteaks—you name it. You can find crabs in their various incarnations at local seafood shacks, fine-dining dens, pizza parlors, food trucks, food halls, and malls—and even High’s gas stations.

Below, find your fix, however you like to eat ’em. Then get ready to celebrate the return of blue crabs to a paper-wrapped table near you—and with it, one of Maryland’s most tried-and-true traditions.

Scenes from The Choptank: the aftermath of a crab feast; grapefruit and orange crushes; crispy crab fritters with rémoulade and pickled vegetables; the historic entrance.
⇓ Article continues below ⇓

Crab Houses

Captain Dan’s Crabhouse


When we walked into this far-flung storefront in a Carroll County strip mall, we couldn’t help but notice the bags of carryout orders behind the counter. Takeout steamed crabs and seafood are big business here. There’s eat-in service, too, but we couldn’t immediately see the dining room. Noticing our confusion as we entered through the bar, a friendly cashier directed us to a solid door that opened to a connecting room with about 10 tables. It’s a bare-bones but cheery space with a mural of docked boats and photos of crab house scenes. Depending on the time of year, the cooked-to-order crabs are a mix of Maryland, Virginia, and Louisiana hard shells dusted with the kitchen’s own seasoning. And the restaurant’s crab expertise is evident. After all, owner Dan Schuman, who runs the crab house with his brother, Mike, has been in the business since 1971, putting time in at a Randallstown seafood market before opening Captain Dan’s in 2003. Simply put, the crabs are fab.

Crab Takes: The crab house ships its seafood nationwide.

Captain James Seafood Palace and Crab House


People love to crack crabs while sitting near the water, but Captain James takes that one step further by offering guests the chance to eat crabs near the water and on a boat. Okay, it’s not an actual boat, but rather a boat-shaped restaurant with an adjacent crab house which features a large deck on the water between Canton and Fells Point. That central location no doubt contributes to the restaurant’s popularity, but the place wouldn’t have hung around for so long if it didn’t deliver quality as well. When we visited on a Friday spring evening, we found both the food and service to be stellar. The view comes with a price tag: These were among the most expensive crabs we encountered, ranging from $100 for a dozen mediums to $155 for jumbos (they’re sold only by the half-dozen or dozen). They were nicely seasoned and well-cooked with sweet meat. Corn on the cob, cold pitchers of beer, and an order of delicious fries that tasted like the boardwalk rounded out our meal, which was just as good as the view of the Patapsco.

Crab Takes: Captain James Crab House is one of the last spots to offer all-you-can-eat crabs in the city (with a two-hour dining limit), available Mondays through Thursdays, from 4 to 9 p.m.

Picking just-steamed crabs at the old-school Costas Inn in Dundalk; Alfresco dining and live music at The Choptank.

The Choptank

Fells Point

At first glance, a casual visitor might not realize that The Choptank is a place to eat steamed crabs. The outdoor area has a happy-hour vibe, and cocktails flow faster than the nearby harbor waters. But once you take a seat and focus on the menu, you realize this is a crab house, after all. Before the steamed shells arrive, your table is covered with brown paper and the proper tools appear—mallet, knife, and even a shell cracker (for those more accustomed to eating lobster). While we waited for the crabs (from Louisiana on our visit and local when available) to steam, we dug into a worthy mound of seafood nachos laden with grilled fish, shrimp, and lump crab. Our half-dozen larges, coated with J.O. seasoning, were mostly plump specimens, but one was a lightweight, so the kitchen tossed in an extra crab.

Crab Takes: The Choptank is housed in the historic Broadway Market’s renovated south shed, circa 1786.

Conrad’s Seafood Restaurant

Perry Hall

If your crabs here taste like some of the freshest shellfish you’ve ever had, that’s because they might be literally just out of the water. Owner Tony Conrad—a triple-threat waterman, restaurateur, and entrepreneur (who recently expanded to Harford County)—likely just disembarked from his boat after a morning of catching crustaceans on the bay. There are so many reasons to come here, from the gratis bucket of popcorn to whet your appetite to the surprisingly delicious salads (which isn’t where crab houses typically shine) to the case of scrumptious sweets (strawberry shortcakes, tiramisu) or the refreshing cantaloupe crushes. But we digress. It really is all about those dependably delicious Maryland crabs, which come hot, heavy, coated in the restaurant’s own proprietary seafood blend, and stacked proudly on a plastic tray.

Crab Takes: In a DIY mood? Conrad’s also has its own seafood market in Parkville, where you can buy crabs live to steam at home. While you’re there, grab a house-made crabby pretzel or a pound of spicy steamed shrimp to-go.

Scenes from Costas Inn: jalepeño crab poppers; steaming the crabs; rolling out the brown paper.

Costas Inn


Since 1971, Costas has been a stalwart of the local crab circuit and, in many ways, it is a crossroads of Baltimore, hosting everyone from families just leaving church service to port workers swinging in for a half-dozen hard shells after their shift to couples enjoying a date night. The diner-like menu, too, showcases a medley of cuisines that have settled in the eastern stretches of the city—things like Italian lasagna, Greek gyros, and, you guessed it, a whole host of dishes featuring crab. Everywhere you look, there are vintage photographs of Lexington Market and Preakness, and televisions for watching everything from NASCAR to Orioles games. Of course, there is Keno. While there’s overflow seating in the adjacent dining room, grab a stool at the central U-shaped bar. The bartender will line it with brown paper, mix you a high-octane orange crush, and, rightly, steer you toward the crabby jalapeño poppers.

Crab Takes: TV personality Kathie Lee Gifford has an affinity for Costas crab cakes, once devouring them on air with her co-host, Hoda Kotb.

⇓ Article continues below ⇓

The Crab Claw

St. Michael’s

There are few places in the state of Maryland more iconic or idyllic than The Crab Claw on our Eastern Shore. In operation since 1965, this waterfront crab deck and old-school dining room is a landmark for locals and tourists alike, only open during its namesake seafood’s season from April through October. Unlike many local seafood houses these days, most of their crabs come from nearby waters, with the restaurant touting its working relationships with Talbot County watermen. Grab a picnic table, order a pitcher of the house beer—Crab Claw Ale, made by Devil's Backbone Brewing Co.—and indulge in over a dozen crab dishes, from crab cocktail to white crab pizza to an Old Bay-seasoned corn dog.

Crab Takes: Still a novice at picking crabs? Their placemats will teach you the tried-and-true way.

The Crackpot


The Crackpot Seafood Restaurant turned 50 this year, and like many of us who hit the half-century mark, it recently had some work done. The result was a stylish new dining room and bar area, a spiffed-up menu that blends new items like New Orleans-style beignets with its signature crab cakes and steamed crabs. Here we found the least expensive crabs we’ve seen in a while: $85 for a dozen larges and $95 for a dozen extra-larges. The latter were generously seasoned and pleasantly heavy. The former, while well-prepared, were noticeably lighter and a bit watery. Go for the biggest size and your taste buds—and your wallet—won’t be disappointed.

Crab Takes: New owners Binod Uprety, who owns Namaste restaurant in Roland Park, and his business partners Mandira Mainali and chef Ram Thapa, have added Indian and Nepali dishes like momos and samosas to the menu.

Dock of the Bay

Sparrows Point

The Chesapeake Bay view, complete with a lighthouse, is enough to draw hungry diners to this decades-old waterside restaurant. Add steamed-to-order crabs and an outdoor deck where you can listen to the lapping bay and quacking ducks, and you’re hooked. On a recent visit, our large hard shells, hailing from Louisiana and sprinkled with J.O. seasoning, were as satisfying as the setting. You can also opt to sit inside the rambling space, which includes a dining room with a sports-bar vibe and large windows to soak in the vista. Wherever you settle, you can nosh on an excellent seared-tuna appetizer or fat rockfish bites while waiting for the main event. After your meal, nab one of the Adirondack chairs on a wooden deck over a dock and linger awhile.

Crab Takes: If you need an early seafood fix, the restaurant serves breakfast, starting at 8 a.m. on weekends, offering a cream-of-crab omelet.

Floyd’s Crossroads Pub


You are indeed at a crossroads—Ten Oaks, Linthicum, and Green Bridge roads—when arriving at this cute, unassuming shack in the Howard County countryside. But you made the right decision to head here for some of the best steamed crabs around. Owners Bill and CindyLee Floyd, along with their sons Curtis Lee and Brendon, also serve up big-time hospitality in their diminutive spot, which seats about 40 in the dining room, plus a few high tops and stools in the bar area. Walls are appropriately adorned with crustacean knickknacks. You can order a minimum of three crabs; we dug into a half-dozen large Louisiana blues, coated generously with J.O. While waiting for them to steam, treat yourself to the restaurant’s delicious Maryland crab soup, loaded with tons of meat swimming in a spicy tomato broth—it’s the real deal.

Crab Takes: In warmer weather, the restaurant pitches a covered tent outdoors to accommodate the crowds.

Serving up steamed crab and corn at Jimmy Cantler’s Riverside Inn; a cup of Maryland crab soup at The Choptank; the hand-washing station and the Old Bay-coated “Deck Fries” at Nick’s Fish House.

Jimmy Cantler’s Riverside Inn


When we pulled into the parking lot this spring, there was a literal tour bus waiting for a table at Cantler’s. Normally, this would be a turn off, but once you make the winding journey to this storied Annapolis crab house situated along Mill Creek, nothing could deter you. The wooden interior is awesomely nostalgic, but we always try to sit on the outside deck. Once you’re settled, split a dozen hard shells from the chalkboard menu and watch below as soft shells are freshly pulled from their waterfront shedding tanks before being fried into your platters or sandwiches (see our "Soft Spot" section below). We always get one of the latter, plus an order of their golden clam strips, too.

Crab Takes: BYOB—if you’re arriving by water, you can dock your boat for free.

Jimmy’s Famous Seafood

Broening Manor

We’re not exactly sure how long after this behemoth of an east side institution opened in 1974 that it added “Famous” to its name, but Jimmy’s has, in fact, become nationally renowned. Photos of celebrities like The Rock, Cal Ripken Jr., and just about every Raven of note hang on the wall near the entrance of the main dining room, which, like the outdoor dining space, separate barroom, and second-floor bar and lounge, were renovated during the pandemic. A boatload of crab appetizers is available, including outstanding crab imperial-stuffed mushroom caps. In March, we cracked steamed jumbos that were pricey—$75 for a half-dozen—but to Jimmy’s credit, they were legitimate jumbos: heavy with tons of sweet meat. They were served with perfectly seasoned potatoes and corn, making for an excellent meal. The kind that has made the place, well, famous.

Crab Takes: With 118,000 followers on Twitter and 77,000 on Instagram (and counting), Jimmy’s social media channels are among the most robust and entertaining in the local restaurant scene.

Kahler’s Crabhouse


From the outside, Kahler’s looks like a quaint cottage that’s gone through a hodgepodge of additions—and that’s exactly what’s happened in the 50-plus years this family-owned restaurant has operated. Once inside, however, you’ll find yourself charmed by this old-time Baltimore haven for steamed crabs and more. Tables are covered in white plastic, an aquarium bubbles with fish, and an assortment of whimsical crab-themed art dots the walls. An outdoor deck in a bucolic setting beckons in warm weather. We got started with several delectable crabstuffed deviled eggs and a mound of shrimp steamed just so. Our large crabs, encrusted with the restaurant’s own spicy seafood seasoning, also showed care from the kitchen. After the shells are taken away, you may be tempted to order Kahler’s homemade ice cream for dessert.

Crab Takes: The restaurant is BYOB and welcomes coolers.

L.P. Steamers

Locust Point

The fact that March 9—months before the official start of Maryland’s crab season—is National Crabmeat Day befuddles us. But seeing as how we never need an excuse to pick up a butter knife and mallet, we headed to one of the city’s most popular crab houses to celebrate this year. It was a raw, cold, rainy night, but most of the tables were taken, as usual, by a blend of locals and tourists who frequent this iconic crab house. It’s easy to understand why all types are attracted to this rowhouse restaurant with pitchers of beer and ballgames playing overhead on various TVs. At L.P. Steamers you can buy large or medium-sized crabs by the dozen or single, a flexible policy that we appreciate. After a bowl of Maryland crab soup and some gooey crab dip, we cracked into a few of both sizes. They were lightly seasoned, prepared well, and, most importantly, they satisfied our craving.

Crab Takes: L.P. Steamers is one of the few places we've encountered where you can crack crabs on a rooftop deck with a view of the Domino Sugar sign in the distance. It doesn't get more quintessentially Baltimore than that.

Mike’s Crab House North


The good-time vibe is strong at this northern outpost of the popular crab house and restaurant on the South River outside of Annapolis. The Pasadena location opened in a marina on Rock Creek in 2012, and since then, it’s been a destination for locals, boaters, and general partiers alike. It’s a sprawling complex with a huge outdoor bar along with a spacious bar and dining room inside. You have to respect a place that lists a crab cake on its menu under “Sides” (it’s sandwiched between hush puppies and a baked potato), so we started with one. It emerged from the broiler piping hot, and for $21 in late April, it was a bargain. For our main course, we ordered a dozen large steamed hard shells for $85. We drank cold draft beer and listened to a blend of country music, yacht rock, and mallets hitting shells—the soundtrack of a good time.

Crab Takes: Customers arriving by boat can tie up for free at Dock B.

⇓ Article continues below ⇓

Mr. Bill’s Terrace Inn


Even though the familiar face and banter of Steve Eliades are no longer at Mr. Bill’s Terrace Inn, the fun vibe and fat crabs keeps that tradition going. Eliades, who died last September, turned his father’s tavern into a seafood hotspot in 1989, naming it after his dad, Bill. Now, another generation, Eliades’ daughter, April Swinder, keeps her father’s legacy alive. During our visit, most tables were piled high with hard shells. We picked our way through a half-dozen large specimens. While the place is not actually an inn (and, come to think of it, doesn’t have a terrace), visitors soak up Maryland’s crab culture in a recently renovated room brightened with a mural depicting bay scenes and a wall adorned with sports jerseys and TVs with games playing. Brown paper covers the tables, paper towels await, and servers are attentive. And it’s always a plus to have an in-room sink to wash the Old Bay off your hands.

Crab Takes: The late Eliades created the restaurant’s signature spicy seafood seasoning.

Scenes from Nick’s Fish House: a crab feast in progress, complete with orange crushes and mallets; crabs coming out of the steamer; a basket of blues waiting to be steamed.

Nick’s Fish House

Port Covington

One of the best seats in Baltimore is on the Nick’s Fish House patio beneath the Hanover Street Bridge along a wide stretch of the Patapsco River. It’s not the easiest to get to, but once you arrive, you can easily transport into vacation mode, with beers sold by the bucket, four kinds of crushes, and a sprawling happy hour menu that draws in the nearby Under Armour crowd. There’s something for everyone on this enormous menu, full of classic and creative takes on Chesapeake fare. The boat of crab dip is a dangerous excursion if you’re not with a large party, but you won’t find us sharing the lump-stuffed grilled cheese, lump-topped lobster roll, or Old Bay French fries. Check out the raw bar list for something a little lighter.

Crab Takes: On a hot summer day, consider the $70 cold seafood platter, featuring raw oysters and claws, peel-and-eat shrimp, chilled snow and Chesapeake crabs, and jumbo lump crab meat.

A crab cake platter with a side of fries and slaw at Schultz's.

Ocean Odyssey


You might not think that some of the best crabs you can find on the Eastern Shore would be situated at the edge of the highway. But trust us—this Dorchester County restaurant, located on the northbound lane of Route 50 in Cambridge on the way to and from Ocean City, run by 41-year-old Travis Todd, whose family has been in the seafood biz for generations, is a cut above the rest. That millennial touch is apparent in the hip white-and-black exterior, playful cocktails, and local emphasis on an elevated fish shack menu (they still abide by the True Blue program, sourcing 100-percent domestic crab meat). Go big or go home with the DoCo Poutine—aka French fries topped with cream of crab soup, cheese curds, and scallions—or the Bay On A Bun, filled with Chesapeake blue catfish, a fried soft crab, and fried local oysters with tomatillo aioli.

Crab Takes: Reserve the “Pickin’ Room” of this former processing house for a private feast.

Ocean Pride Seafood Restaurant


Founded in 1971, this Baltimore County crab joint is one of the premiere spots for steamed sweeties, whether you’re dining in or carrying out. Crabs come hot and heavy, though carryout sells out fast, so call early in the day to claim your crab. (And should you decide to up and move to, say, Seattle, Ocean Pride ships to the lower 48.) Beyond the crabs, there are plenty of other items on offer, from flatbreads to Philly cheesesteaks, as well as raw bar offerings, which are always excellent. Be forewarned: This place has zero ambiance, unless you count a bevy of big screen TVs and tin buckets for beer, but that’s how you know it’s the real deal.

Crab Takes: Except for Sunday night (when it closes promptly at 10 p.m.), Ocean Pride is open until midnight, should your craving for crab kick in after the 11 o’clock news and the kids have long gone to bed.

Reter’s Crab House & Grille


Housed between a veterinary clinic and a physical therapist in a nondescript strip mall, it’s easy to miss Reter’s from Reisterstown’s main drag. We’re glad we didn’t. While it might not look like much from the outside, inside Reter’s provides an inviting atmosphere that serves some of the best crabs we’ve had in recent memory. On a lively Wednesday in late April, the bar and dining room were packed with people feasting on oysters, crab and shrimp nachos, the prime rib special ($16.99 with two sides), and, of course, crabs. We ordered jumbos, larges, and mediums, which were priced both by the dozen and per crab. The jumbos looked perfectly fine when our friendly bartender slid them onto the paper in front of us, but the real treat—the tender and well-seasoned meat—was inside. Just like the crab house in which they were served.

Crab Takes: Although it was established in 1997, the menu still touts Reter’s 20th anniversary. It’s an apt embodiment of the laidback atmosphere here. No one cares that the logo is a bit dated; everyone’s having too good of a time to look up from the business of cracking crabs.

Scenes from Schultz’s Crab House: sorting and seasoning the crabs; the finished product; a table awaits you in the iconic dining room.

Schultz’s Crab House


If you’re looking for the real-deal Maryland crab house, drive out of the city and onward down Old Eastern Avenue until you get to Schultz’s Crab House in Essex. Instead of finding a patio deck of paper-covered picnic tables, you’ll be surprised to see a brick corner restaurant with a faded red awning, diamond-shaped window-panes, and an illuminated yellow sign beckoning you inside for “seafood & steaks.” Since 1969, this family-owned, James Beard Award-winning “America’s Classic,” just a stone’s throw from Middle River, has been the place for platters of fresh-steamed crabs, jumbo lump-topped porterhouses, and ole Bawlmer classics like sour beef and dumplings, which were on special during our last visit. You can eat at the bar, which is always packed with regulars rallying for pool, Keno, and O’s on the television, or in the dining room, fit with quintessential knotty pine walls, red pleather booths, and mounted marlins.

Crab Takes: Don’t leave without a to-go quart of their half-and-half crab soup.


Getting Picky

“I dug my finger in behind the blade of an immersion blender and turned the blender on by accident. I went to the ER, got 16 stitches, and went right to a going-away party for my mom, so I wouldn’t miss out on the crabs. I picked them onehanded. I kept up with everyone.”

—Juliet Ames, artist, The Broken Plate Co.

He’s Got Mail

“The word ‘crab’ is part of my official email address. Someone asked me, ‘How many crab cakes did you have to eat to get that email address?’ Now I just need crab as part of my license plate!”

—John Shields, owner-chef, Gertrude’s Chesapeake Kitchen

Anything for Love

“I’m a crab lover and about 15 years ago, I had a bad allergic reaction to eating crabs. I got so scared that I might never be able to eat them again, but I continued to eat them anyway. I had an allergic reaction two more times after that. Basically, I was willing to die for crabs.”

—Felicia Covel Rami, restaurateur, The Crab Queen

Think Ink

“People love their blue crabs, especially people from Maryland. If you’re from Maryland, you must have a blue crab tattoo.”

—Sam Ford, Annapolis-based tattoo artist, who fills such frequent requests.

Animal Instincts

“We love Maryland and crabs, so having ‘crab’ in the name of our business was important to us, plus an Old Bay-crusted blue crab wearing a Terps Jersey is my spirit animal. I’ve always had a ton of state pride.”

—Earl Holman, general manager, Crooked Crab Brewing Co. (and UMD graduate)

Blue Crabs

A Brief History


First and Foremost

Blue crabs are an important food source for Native Americans and European settlers and appear in our nation’s earliest cookbooks.


Elder Statesman

The J.M. Clayton Company, the oldest crab-picking house on the Chesapeake, is founded on Hoopers Island.


In the Swim

The blue crab is officially named Callinectes sapidus, which translates to “beautiful savory swimmer.”


Nice Catch

The wire crab pot is invented by a Virginia man, Benjamin Lewis.


The Secret Is Out

Atlantic blue crabs are introduced beyond Baltimore in the New York World’s Fair Cookbook, which refers to “Baltimore crab cakes.”


Spicing Things Up

Old Bay is invented in Baltimore.


Book It

William W. Warner’s Beautiful Swimmers, about the local seafood industry, wins the Pulitzer Prize.


Into the Blue

The True Blue program helps consumers buy certified Maryland blue crab.

A soft shell platter with fries and slaw.

THEY ARRIVE IN THE middle of spring, a few weeks earlier or later than last year, depending on myriad mysterious things like the moon and weather. A cold spell could push them off. As could a good rain. But eventually, the water will rise above 50 degrees, luring the Atlantic blue crab out of the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay tributaries and off on a great migration toward nearby shorelines for a cosmic event: becoming a soft shell.

Delicacies are often ephemeral foods—those still at the whims of Mother Nature—and few rival the seasonal treat of a soft-shell crab. In order to grow, crabs must molt their exoskeletons, and in that brief period before their tender bodies turn tough again—a matter of mere hours—they can be harvested and eaten whole. Plump, fragile, and flavorful, they allow us to indulge our most primal instincts, devouring the sweet meat with abandon, without the pricked fingers of hard shells.

For that, they’ve been coveted for centuries, sating the aquatic appetites of Native American communities and European colonists, appearing in early 20th-century cookbooks boiled, broiled, fried, steamed, and even curried, with one Cajun recipe calling the soft-shell crab “a dainty dish that graces the most aristocratic tables.” Part of their rise in popularity arrived with the advent of aquaculture, with the first known soft-shell nursery appearing in South Carolina in 1885, though many credit the region around Maryland’s Crisfield as the soft-crab capital of the world. Decades-old shedding docks still speckle nearby Smith and Tangier Islands, where, come spring, watermen patiently wait along the underwater grasses for crustaceans to shift their shapes, at which point they’re plucked and rushed to market.

Today, these spider-like delights have found their way onto menus not just near the crab’s natural waterfront, but across the country, and around the globe, embellishing everything from eggs Benedict to sushi. But in our eyes, there’s only one way to eat them: dredged in J.O. and flour. Fried in butter. Served between two slices of white bread with a ripe July tomato and slather of mayonnaise. Simple. Perfect. Ambrosia of the Chesapeake. —LW




For several years now, the Big Softy pop-up has been slinging soft-shell crabs around town, from R. House to John Brown’s Butchery. Follow them on Instagram to catch their next location for classic sandwiches with spicy mayo on griddled sourdough.


When chef Cindy Wolf has soft shells on offer, head to Harbor East—fast. Sit at the bar, order a martini, and treat yourself to at least one, which will likely arrive lightly fried in cornmeal and served simply with some seasonal salad and divine aioli.


Long live the soft crab sandwich at Dylan’s. Every spring, we wait to hear that these little creatures have arrived in Hampden, where they’re fried to the perfect crisp, double stacked on toast with butter lettuce and tomato, and topped with a tiny Maryland flag.


One of the most fun ways to eat soft crabs is however Ekiben decides to cook them. Each year, their inventive takes tantalize taste buds across the city, from spicy BLTs to Buffalo- style sandwiches with cheddar and blue cheese.


Beloved restaurateur Nick Schauman might have invented “food porn” with his ridiculous soft crab sandwiches in Mt. Vernon. Live a little and order the “Colossal Crab Sandwich,” which is also piled high with a crab cake and bacon on Texas toast.

⇓ Article continues below ⇓
Crabby Creations



The menu listing a “World Famous Crab Cake” tells you all you need to know at this Parkton haunt, where the colossal creations are made by hand—and with love—from a treasured heirloom recipe.



Since 1886, this Lexington Market seafood stall has been turning out big-as-a-baseball splendors, made with all- Maryland meat and molded by third-generation owner Nancy Faidley Devine. If you only eat one specimen in all of Maryland, make it Nancy’s. As Gourmet wrote many years ago, “Every subsequent crab cake will be measured against hers.”


Charles Village

Chef John Shields, who is known as Mr. Crab Cake, does his grandmother Gertie proud with these broiled babies using backfin Maryland meat bound by Saltine cracker crumbs and flavored with Worcestershire and a kiss of Tabasco. The whole shebang is served with boardwalk-style fries and classic coleslaw.



Locals know that this Lauraville landmark is one of the best places to eat colossal crab cakes with few fillers, a touch of Old Bay, and a variety of dipping sauces (though we prefer eating ours straight). And we mean colossal—at 11 ounces, when it comes to crab cakes, size does matter.

Top: The massive crab cake sandwich at Koco’s Pub. Above: The famous crab cake from Faidley’s.


Mt. Vernon

Seafood shaman Nick Schauman serves his jumbo-lump cakes made with real-deal Maryland meat as a sandwich or a la carte with Saltines. Eat them with a bag of Utz and repeat after us, “Welcome to B’more, hon!”



For four generations, the crab cake recipe at this Timonium hangout has remained unchanged. And that’s a good thing, given that you shouldn’t mess with perfection.



The recipe and sourcing are a closely guarded state secret at this 50-year-old Cockeysville joint. But all you need to know is that these crab cakes, lightly spiced and virtually filler-free, received the ultimate imprimatur from Oprah, who deemed them a “favorite thing” in 2015.

⇓ Article continues below ⇓
Crabby Creations

When it comes to crab dishes in Maryland, anything is fair game. From nachos to chicken to French fries, there are few dishes that aren’t enlivened with the addition of crab, whether it plays a starring role—or a supporting one. Crabmeat adds a bit of decadence to anything you pair it with. It can cool fiery flavors found in Old Bay or dishes with chile or garlic and ginger; and it pairs well with tangy ingredients like tartar sauce, lemon, and mustard, or fresh herbs such as tarragon, mint, and basil. Below, you’ll find some of our favorite local crabby creations.

Crab Pie

Matthew’s Pizza

The adage about not mixing seafood and cheese certainly doesn’t apply to the 10-inch, deep-dish crab pie (with mozzarella and Parm) at this 79-year-old Eastern Avenue pizza parlor that has earned shoutouts in The New York Times and on the Travel Channel.

Crab Cake Eggroll


It’s about time someone made a crab-cake egg roll, and this deep-fried trendy take offers the unexpected with the addition of shrimp and spicy aioli. Take a bite and count your lucky stars that you reside in the Land of Pleasant Living.

Crab Meatballs

The Food Market

Where’s the beef in the meatballs at this Hampden hotspot? There is none, which is precisely the point. Instead, you’ll find beautiful balls of, you guessed it, blue crab served in fra diavolo sauce with pasta.

Crabby Pretzel

Nick’s Fish House

This colossal pretzel stuffed with crab, topped with cheddar, and sprinkled with Old Bay, is the perfect happy hour snack for splitting with friends. (You can also eat it by yourself and make it a meal.)

Crab Mac-and-Cheese

True Chesapeake Oyster Co.

Briny bivalves get top billing at this Whitehall Mill seafood spot, but the mac-and-cheese tossed with chunks of Maryland lump comes in a close second.

Crabby Nachos

Nacho Mama’s

This South of the Border meets Bay creation is a study in texture and taste. The sweet of the crab meat, plus the heat of the jalapeño, the tangy cheese, and crunchy corn tortillas, is a flavor bomb.

⇓ Article continues below ⇓

You May Also Like