For years now, my brother has been making me jealous will tales of summer afternoons eating crabs to the point of stomach combustion at a shack of a restaurant on the Maryland shore. This year, my brother’s birthday seemed as good excuse as any to rent a car and make the long drive from New York City to the far off land of Annapolis and a small but busy restaurant called Cantler’s Riverside Inn.
Arriving in the middle of the afternoon, it was clear by the crowds three deep at the bar, more patrons waiting by the dock with canned beer, not to mention the picnic tables with guests shoved elbow to elbow and back to back, that Cantler’s is a more than a local favorite. Cantler’s is an institution.
A bucket of beer and some clam strip appetizers later, our table began to fill up with the offerings of the sea. Jumbo shrimp were steamed and served on a bed of sautéed onions and red peppers. Steamers with their phallic extensions were primed for dipping in clarified butter and dragging through Old Bay seasoning we liberally spread out over the paper table covering.
The piece de resistance- the reason we were at Cantler’s to start with- were the Maryland blue crabs. Crabs were ordered by the multiple of dozen. Ours came out steamed, mounded on a metal baking sheet and doused in Old Bay. A friend to my right showed me how to “find the seatbelt” on the belly of the crab- a long skinny piece of shell that when pulled upon released the clasp of the two shell halves revealing the treasure of the interior. My brother found this process too tedious and instead instructed his girlfriend on the insertion and twisting of a knife at the seam to pry open the hard exoskeleton. Perhaps a bit more primal, the knife tactic proved an effective technique in the vanquishing of crabs.
The rest of the crab fest is a blur of hands covered in yellowing Old Bay and green “crab poop”, both of which were indelicately wiped off on a pile of paper napkins between shoveling mouthfuls of sweet crabmeat. Buckets of Landshark Lager disappeared, a bag of homemade cookies for the birthday were passed around, and the sun dipped a little lower on the horizon.
Only two hours had passed since I squeezed myself into a picnic bench on the patio at Cantler’s. Yet the dizzying array of fruit de la mare and my seemingly insatiable appetite meant that getting out of that seat was slightly more difficult than getting in had been. A five-hour drive down on the I-95 for crabs was no small gift to my brother, but given my love of crab, this was most definitely the gift that gave back.