Around the Bay, images of the iconic red crustacean appear everywhere— from flags, hats and T-shirts to bumper stickers, menus and refrigerator magnets. Outsiders might wonder about a regional mascot with spindly little legs and oversized claws, but locals see this beloved aquatic creature as a symbol of summertime and a tasty reason for gathering family and friends.
The ingredients for an authentic Chesapeake crab feast are quite simple: a bushel of live crabs still kicking and snapping their claws, a picnic table covered with brown paper, wooden mallets for cracking stubborn shells and bright yellow canisters of Old Bay seasoning. A waterfront view and a dash of sunshine set the mood for perfect picking. Patience is required while waiting 25 minutes for crabs to steam, so creamy coleslaw, hushpuppies, silver queen corn and a bucket of cold beer stand at the ready to stave off hunger. When piles of hot red crabs finally land on the table, the bay’s favorite epicurean rumpus begins.
Prying the shell open and liberating meat from the muck takes a little work. But when a nugget of tender jumbo lump reaches your tongue, you taste the essence of the bay and welcome the arrival of Chesapeake summer. If your stomach is now rumbling for sweet Maryland crabs, set your sites for these 12 destinations where you can eat your fill and savor the season’s bounty.
CAPTAIN JAMES SEAFOOD PALACE & CRAB HOUSE – BALTIMORE, MD.
With a building that looks like a merchant ship docked on Boston Street and a wooden crab deck that floats above the waves, this family-owned restaurant has dished out fresh local seafood since the 1970s. Go for a dozen or all-you-can- eat steamed crabs accompanied by popular dishes such as crab soup, crab cakes and steamer pots bubbling with mussels, shrimp, clams or snow crab legs.
Where to stay: Baltimore Marine Center Lighthouse Point
NICK’S FISH HOUSE – BALTIMORE, MD.
Located in the up-and-coming area of Port Covington of Baltimore, Nick’s Fish house has the freshest seafood around. Along with the freshest seafood, they also offer regional specialities, and the best steam crabs in Baltimore. Servicing up something for everyone, from fires to famous crab cakes, there is something to please the whole crowd. The waterfront deck is the perfect spot whether you want to \enjoy a craft beer or Maryland favorite, orange crush. Come for happy hour and stay for dinner too, you won’t be disappointed. Don’t miss the live music every weekend through September too.
Where to stay: Baltimore Yacht Basin
CARSON’S CREEKSIDE RESTAURANT & LOUNGE – MIDDLE RIVER, MD.
Caron’s Creek in Middle River is a crowd pleaser for all crowds. Their restaurant prepares a variety of dishes ranging from classic to contemporary. They aim to deliver the freshest of dishes. Even if you are craving something that’s not on their menu, ask your server and they will do their best to cook up whatever you’re craving as a special order just for you. On those beautiful summer days, sit right out on the water on their deck. This is the perfect spot to watch breathtaking sunsets you won’t want to miss!
Where to stay: Middle River Landing Marina
MIKE’S CRAB HOUSE NORTH – ARNOLD, MD.
Just off the Patapsco River awaits a crab picker’s paradise that gets everything just right. The long waterfront deck holds rows of picnic tables shaded by umbrellas as red as the steamed crabs and shrimp beneath them. Music flows from the outdoor bar, where cool cocktails and brews magically appear in your hand. The spacious indoor dining area pays tribute to Bay watermen with nautical artwork and vintage photographs.
Where to stay: Liberty Marina
JIMMY CANTLER’S RIVERSIDE INN – ANNAPOLIS, MD.
It takes five generations of watermen to create a place as crab-friendly as Cantler’s. Daily catch from the bay rolls in every morning on fishing boats, giving each seafood dish a freshness that’s second to none. Families and neighbors pick crabs on the outdoor deck while children play on the pier. In shedding tanks near the water, crabs molt their outer shells and are brought to the kitchen to become fried soft-shell delicacies.
Where to stay: Annapolis Town Dock
SKIPPER’S PIER RESTAURANT & DOCK BAR – DEALE, MD.
It’s no surprise that a town like Deale that’s packed with so many boats would be home to a fantastic waterside restaurant. Recent renovations to the double-deck dock bar make sunsets over Rockhold Creek an unforgettable experience. New chefs and an upgraded menu conjure up innovative dishes such as crab bruschetta and crab-crusted broiled oysters. Traditional steamers of crabs, clams and mussels remain big crowd pleasers.
Where to stay: Harbour Cove Marina
WATERMAN’S CRAB HOUSE RESTAURANT & DOCK BAR – ROCK HALL, MD.
When a menu touts locally caught steamed crabs, along with award-winning stuffed rockfish and jumbo lump crab cakes, you’ve hit the seafood lovers’ lottery. Plus, it’s hard to resist the spectacular sunsets, live bands on weekends and 30 deep-water slips at this Upper Bay paradise. Caribbean steel drums on Sunday afternoon will make you consider calling in sick to work on Monday morning.
FISHERMAN’S INN & CRAB DECK – GRASONVILLE, MD.
A trinity of heavenly crabitude awaits on Kent Island: Fisherman’s Inn Restaurant with the Nauti Mermaid Bar, the bustling waterfront Crab Deck and a seafood market to carry out all kinds of delectable seafood. Watch watermen unload bushels of crabs that are cooked to old-school bay standards and then served at your table. Steamed variety pots invite you to sample a medley of crabs, shrimp, clams and mussels.
THE CRAB CLAW RESTAURANT – ST. MICHAELS, MD.
The building was a clam- and oyster shucking house in the 1950s, morphed into a seafood restaurant in 1965 and has been a haven for traditional Chesapeake seafood ever since. Waitresses deliver heavy trays piled high with steamed crabs to the waterfront deck, while guests inside the two-story dining rooms enjoy vintage maritime décor and a bird’s eye view of St. Michael’s beautiful harbor.
Where to stay: St Michaels Harbour Inn Marina
THE SHANTY – CAPE CHARLES, VA.
It’s new but authentic, traditional yet innovative. With only a few years under its dining service belt, The Shanty artfully combines opposing culinary concepts by tapping into the easy-going spirit of Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Food here is simple and fresh – pulled straight out of the bay just before it hits your plate. After a hearty meal, parents can soak up magnificent views while kids keep themselves busy with cornhole and other games.
Where to stay: Cape Charles Yacht Center