My favorite place to eat blue crabs is at a creaking shack on the outskirts of one of those pathologically quaint Eastern Shore towns that sell teddy bears decked out in pink tights and tutus or cut-out wooden hearts painted with sayings like “Mommy’s Little Angel.” Eating crabs there sometimes feels like the only way to make these locales palatable.
But short of making that trek to the eastern side of the Chesapeake, I’m often lost for good crab houses closer to the D.C. area. Perhaps this dearth is due to catch limits placed on crabbers or because these joints are messy affairs that run counter to the button-down, stuffed-shirt self-importance of District dining. Whatever the reason, I’m often forced to get my blue-crab fix far outside the Beltway, like this weekend when my wife, Carrie, and I stopped at Captain Jerry’s in Laurel.
Captain Jerry’s (sometimes spelled “Cap’t Jerry’s” or even “Captain, Jerry’s”) isn’t much to look at. It’s a wooden A-frame structure—-with the requisite nautical theme—-on the outer fringes of a shopping center that blasts your nostrils with fish as soon as you walk in the door. But the joint serves up blue crabs right. You can get an unlimited supply of small jimmies for $25, and it comes with an equally unlimited supply of fries and hush puppies, which is good because those fried goodies turn either soggy or rock-hard as you devote your efforts to breaking apart shellfish.
But here’s my thing about all-you-can-eat blue crab dining: It combines one of the worst traits of American dining (gut-busting gluttony) with one of best traits of European dining (long, leisurely meals). It’s also distinctively primal: You have to tear apart one crustacean after another to get your fill. I understand how this brutality toward acquiring the flesh translates into a brutality toward seasoning and eating the flesh. But this blue-crab season, I’d like to lobby for a little restraint on dredging your shreds of sweet meat in clarified butter or Old Bay or a doctored-up white vinegar. (Yeah, yeah, I know it tastes good, but the tiny forkfuls of meat then smack only of butter, celery-and-spice, or hot vinegar.)
After all, would you drench Kobe beef in A-1 sauce? Didn’t think so.