Saturday, February 12, 2005

Crab cakes

The Lurker and I went to Maryland for lunch today. Well, not exactly. The Lurker eats to live, so it's unlikely he would go out of his way for any sort of culinary nirvana. He's remarkably tolerant when Perfect Tommy or I start going on about our own culinary nirvanas, but only because he finds it entertaining. So, to be more accurate, The Lurker and I went to Maryland for a rare bird, and we had lunch when we got there.

This particular bird went well with lunch because it's a gull which has staked out a dock behind a crab house in southern Maryland for several years. Inside the crab house, there are framed newspaper clippings about the scene of dozens of birders descending on the quiet hamlet of Sandgates just to see this gull. There's also a framed plaque from the American Birding Association thanking the owners of the crab house for being such excellent rare bird hosts (yes, there is such a thing as a rare bird host). Then again, when a bird brings in as much business as this one must have done over the years, it's no wonder the owners of the Sea Breeze are willing to share some of their seafood with the celebrity gull, who has been nicknamed Shrimpy.

When we pulled up at the Sea Breeze, our friends Phil and The Sherpa were waiting for us. They were in on the initial gull madness, but were quite happy to return to the scene of past glories. After a brief search, The Lurker spotted Shrimpy perched on a piling behind (heresy!) the other crab house next to the Sea Breeze. We admired Shrimpy and noted all the field marks that make this gull not exactly the same as all the other gulls hanging out on the bay, at least until Shrimpy flew out of sight. Mission accomplished, we trooped inside to render our thanks to the Sea Breeze.

This was my first opportunity to have a real Maryland crab cake right on Chesapeake Bay. I know that there are crab cake connoisseurs out there who bring almost as much rigor to it as wine mavens. Since I'm an inherent know-it-all, I wish I was a crab cake connoisseur, but I have to confess my ignorance in this case. I also have to admit that I hate passing judgement on restaurants, because when something is off, I'd just as soon give them the benefit of the doubt (unless it's something really bad).

Having said all that, the crab cake platter was an enjoyable and filling meal. Maybe the crab cake didn't have huge lumps of crabmeat in it, maybe the coating (carapace?) was much harder than expected, maybe the seasonings were mild. But it hit me right at the time and kept me satisfied for an afternoon of more birding. The fries were ordinary (but they mopped up the tartar sauce just fine), and I was too full to get to the cole slaw. Ever the landlubber, The Lurker had a basket of chicken fingers that he pronounced "edible," but then, have chicken fingers ever gotten gourmet treatment? The Sherpa raved about the crab soup she had the last time she was at the Sea Breeze, but today she found it disappointingly salty. Phil had a broiled fish that looked marvelous and was deemed “ok.” We had a great view of the water from our table, so we kept getting distracted by passing birds. I'm sure the crab house is used to patrons snatching up binoculars at odd moments by now.

At least now I can say I've had a genuine Maryland crab cake.

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