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Like many people during the holidays, I found myself bouncing between households, trains, and automobiles, with a suitcase holding too many presents and not enough clothes. The traveling part sucks, of course, but the destinations and time with family make the journey worth it.
Just before Christmas, I found myself in Anne Arundel County where the Annapolis Seafood Markets have been serving simple seafood longer than I’ve been alive. Take-out seafood is a mainstay, but a select number of tables cater to those who’d like to stick around.
Don’t expect a fancy tray of ice to present your oysters. Instead, Blue Points arrive on a simple blue melamine plate with only a wedge of lemon and some cocktail sauce in a plastic cup. These aren’t fancy oysters—they taste like how a low-tide smells, but they’re cheap and reasonably fresh.
And what about my crabcake?
It weighed in at half a pound, making its cheap plain roll look comical. I ignored the cup of tartar sauce. For me, it went straight into the trash, along with that cottony tomato that’s woefully out of season. All the crabcake needed was a heavy squeeze of lemon and some salt to make up for a kitchen that’s bashful with the shaker.
If you venture a trip to Annapolis, jumbo lumps of crabmeat take center stage in this sandwich, defying the laws of physics, suspended with an impossibly small amount of filler. The delicate balance quickly upended the overall package. With each bite, lumps rained down, which I finished with a plastic fork after another dousing with lemon juice.
Crabcakes defined my youth, and this one brought back a seemingly endless stream of memories: Hush puppies, crabs by the bushel, keg beer, and boating; oyster beds on the inlets at low tide, less than a mile from my house; making forts in the reeds as a kid, and coming home with muck on my knees. Making out with girls in the reeds as a teenager, and coming home with more muck on my knees.
I’m disappointed that this local favorite isn’t more readily available inside the Beltway. Crabcakes may be expensive to produce but Red Hook Lobster Pound, based in New York City, proves D.C.’s readiness to drop nearly $20 on a great seafood sandwich and a bag of chips. Annapolis Seafood’s crabcake comes in at $18 and pummels anything I’ve had in a casual setting recently.
Market Lunch at Eastern Market does a decent job, but the cake itself is a little wet for my liking. Tom Sietsema found some gems in Ashburn, but that’s a long haul, too. (And Loudoun County sprawl doesn’t exactly measure up to more Chesapeake-oriented environs.) Bobby’s Crabcakes in Rockville used to do a great job, but sadly, they’ve closed. Maybe crabcakes don’t have the sex appeal of sweet, sleek, lobster meat trucked in from Maine, but if they’re made with high quality un-broken jumbo lumps of crab meat, I think they’re the sandwich to beat.
I just have to find one closer to home.
Photos by Scott Reitz