Last night, I attended an orgy. And got crabs.
Relax. The orgy was a food fiesta and everybody was clothed. Except the crabs and, boy, were they steamed. But at least we covered them up with a coat from Costas.
Yep, no trip to Baltimore would be complete without a festival of steamed crabs and last night’s was a doozy. Though we split only a dozen among three people, the crabs were huge, meaty and juicy. And Costas Inn’s crab seasoning, which is more robust than Old Bay, had us licking any self-inflicted shelling wounds.
Most interesting thing, though, about the crabs at our Maryland steamed blue crab boil, is where they come from: The Gulf Coast. Specifically, the Texas and Louisiana coast.
Here’s the reasoning straight from Pete Triantafilos, son of owner Costas Triantafilos: The quality of crabs is better. The Gulf Coast crabs are usually larger, meatier and more plentiful. Chesepeake Bay apparently has been overfished and overused for years and though it’s North America’s largest estuary, it can’t properly supply the commercial demand. And so, we went to Baltimore to eat Texas crabs.
Now, I’ve never known anywhere in Dallas to get Maryland-style steamed crabs and that seems a shame since the fishery is so close. There are crab restaurants in Dallas (Hi, Trulucks) but no place for spicy steamed crabs. That is, unless, you are hiding something from us. If you’ve got a spot, hey, this is thread in which to let us know.
If not, then you can simply sit back and drool as I, being the crabby guy that I am, detail the 10 best uses for that lovely family known as Crustacea.
1.Chilled Stone Crab Claws: With mustard sauce made famous at Joe’s in Miami Beach. Really, Joe’s is what Stone Crabs (shown on the left) are all about, but if the folks at Truluck’s trucked in some sand and some seabreeze, you might not be able to tell the difference. The claws and the mustard sauce are that good. And Truluck’s sweet potato fries are a perfect accompaniment.
2.Baked stuffed Maine lobster: And for stuffing I mean crumbled Ritz crackers, maybe some bread crumbs, oregano and a lot of butter. You know, health food. Not sure where the best lobster in Dallas is, but Legal Sea Foods in Boston is the best commercial stuffed lobster I’ve destroyed. And if you can sweet-talk our pal, Chef Gina Stipo, to whip up her grandma’s recipe, you’ll love her and her grandma forever.
3. Fried Shrimp: We may be getting into the Forrest Gump portion of the list here, but fried shrimp when done properly are little gifts from Neptune. Nobody does them better than S&D Oyster, especially if you start with some spicy shrimp dip and get one of your seatmates to order (and share) the barbecue shrimp. Just heavenly. Those little shrimp wear see-through batter dresses and you can see their little pink ripples of flesh peaking out. Now, I’m not a big cornmeal batter guy, but Flying Fish does such a good job with it (and gumbo, fish tacos and the new grits and gumbo), that I hardly even notice the batter’s not my fave style. It still tastes groovy. And while this is a whole different category, the shrimp brochette from Pappadeaux/Pappasitos is like a drug. You will get addicted to the bacon wrapped shrimp, stuffed with fresh Jalapeno and Monterey Jack Cheese and then served with lots of garlic butter. Sometimes, man, I just gotta have a fix (like on May 11, hint, hint)
4. Shrimp cocktail: So simple. Chilled shrimp perched along the rim of a circular chilled pewter or glass bowl. And then sitting on top of a little bed of lettuce like they are about to have a romantic evening are little dollops of tangy cocktail sauce and some fresh grated horseradish. I think the last time I had it done this way was at Oceanaire. Why does everybody else have to fancy it up with martini glasses and what not?
5. Chilled whole Dungeness Crab: Last one I had in Dallas was a bad experience, though, more from a presentation standpoint than anything else. Pescabar cracked the crab in half and stuck it in some ice with the split back fin showing. If not cleaned, the back fin of a Dungeness crab has all kinds of black gook all over it. Not appetizing. In Seattle, try Elliott’s Oyster House. Get the sweet Thai chili dipping sauce. Gorge yourself on a two-pound crab. And then go take a nap. Trust me, you’ll need one.
6. Crab Cakes: Good crab cakes are great. Bad crab cakes are hushpuppies. The best places mix huge chunks of lump back fin meat, some Old Bay, mayo and maybe a pinch of bread crumbs to make a baseball-sized hunk of crab. If you get stringy meat or more cake than crab, you, sir/madam, have been had. Best ever: Faidley’s, a stand in the Lexington Market in Baltimore. You also cannot go wrong at Oceanaire.
7. Lobster roll: More meat and less celery, please. Give me a buttered split top roll. Yep, basically white bread. Hold your brioches and your crusty French baguettes. Trust me. Again Legal Seafoods does it right with lots of sweet lobster meat mixed with a dab of mayo and just a hint of celery. But I’ll bet I could eat my way from Portland to Bar Harbor and find a handful of more scenic dives with cheaper and tastier lobster rolls.
8. Maryland-style steamed crab: The reason for starting this whole list. See above or the photo to the left. In Maryland, find your way to Costas Inn.
9. Barbecue Shrimp: Tons of butter, ton of spices. Dozens of places in New Orleans to pick from. In Dallas there’s one: S&D. Though Flying Fish’s BBQ Shrimp Po-Boy is an excellent loaf and my favorite shellfish sandwich in town.
10. Alaskan King Crab legs: Nancy’s favorite, but Nancy doesn’t like fish (kidding). She’s also spoiled by having had Alaskan King Crabs, plucked fresh from Alaskan waters and served to her within minutes of their capture while on a private cruise. The King Crab legs we get here are nowhere near as fresh and lose some of the sweetness. Also, Nancy may be envisioning sharing those King Crabs with one of the Deadliest Catch dudes, all swarthy and briny.
Sorry, I’ve been so selfish about shellfish. Please, add to the list or give us some recommendations. Always open to expanding the list.