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Posts from the ‘Maryland’ Category

Waterman’s Crab House

I independently came to the conclusion that Waterman's
is the closest real Chesapeake crab-eating experience to NYC, which was later
reinforced by the Road Food message board. You still have to drive nearly 200 miles for
the experience, though.

Waterman's crab house view

By real I don't even mean that the crabs are local;
most, maybe all, of the Maryland crab houses get their bounty from Louisiana
and Texas, at least part of the year. It's the Eastern Shore style, served
outdoors, on the water, at picnic tables (though the windowless bar room is
equally authentic
, especially in Baltimore).

Waterman's crab house dozen crabs

The crabs come crusted in salty,
piquant Old Bay with vinegar, extra Old Bay, and melted butter for dipping.

Waterman's crab house crab pile

get to choose the size of your crabs, all the way from mediums to jumbos with
larges and extra larges in between, if they have them, and pay accordingly by
the dozen. NYC crabs are never larger than medium. Picking crab is fussy
business; you'll starve messing with mediums.

Waterman's crab house hushpuppies

Hushpuppies are the starch of choice. Dip them in
more butter.

Waterman's crab house crab pretzel

Crab pretzels, cheesy crab dip baked onto pretzel
bread, came on the scene some time ago. Admittedly, it's kind of gross when it's
over 90 degrees and you're sweating. Crab dip served with saltines is more

Waterman's crab house beer

A pitcher of beer is necessary. I'd never seen this
bag of ice trick before.

Waterman's crab house bar

Then you can move onto Rum Runners, Jaeger bombs or
whatever special is advertised at the adjoining bar where 85% of the clientele
is at least 40, smokes and tanned to a beef jerky brown. My current bleached
blonde hair made me feel like I fit in a little big, but my skin's ghosty hue gave me away
as an intruder.

Waterman's Crab House * 21055 Sharp St., Rock Hall, Maryland

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Summer of Cheese

Nitehawk cinema queso tots

Nitehawk Cinema A lot of melted cheese was consumed
in a one-week period. I ordered the queso tots thinking this was some new unexplored
treat then remembered I’d ordered the exact same thing on my last visit to the
theater. Menu memory lapse happens far more often that I'd like to admit. So, how about that Frances Ha?

Taco chulo eggs benedict

Taco Chulo I also eat at Taco Chulo more than I'd
like to admit. It's never my idea, but it's a block from my apartment and seems
to appeal to picky eaters. If you love processed cheese like I do and can deal
with brunch on occasion, the queso benedict an underdog surprise. Velveeta
instead of hollandaise, sweet toasted cornbread in lieu of English muffins, and
enough spinach and slaw to give the dish a health halo. Save one half and eat it for
dinner once you emerge from your afternoon Bloody Maria stupor.

Artichoke racino pizza

Artichoke Basille's The fabled artichoke cheese dip slice has
certainly garnered a lot of attention since it appeared in 2008. Yet it was
only when I noticed an outpost at the Aquaduct casino that I felt compelled to
try it. It's heavy, for sure, and best consumed in a temperature controlled
environment like a casino food court, otherwise all that warm fat and starch
loses its appeal in 90-degree heat.

Waterman's crab house crab pretzel

Waterman's Crab House Sweat and melted cheese not mixing was
the lesson I learned while tearing into a crab pretzel (crab dip baked onto a
pretzel roll is very much a relative of the Artichoke pizza) on a dock
overlooking the Chesapeake Bay while being blasted with the sun's ray, despite
the table umbrellas. I'd still order the massive appetizer again, though. I
prefer the more demure Phillip's version that you can get a rest stops on the
drive to Baltimore.

Pat's cheesesteak

Pat's and Geno's A pit stop was made on the way back from
Maryland for more unnaturally colored liquid cheese. This was the greasiest
cheesesteak I've ever experienced (and I've experienced quite a few in my time)
and not really in an endearing way. I've always been partial to Pat's, though,
because it's less flashy. Geno's version was consumed for breakfast the
following day and not photographed. The only reason why Pat's was eaten on the
spot and Geno's was saved for later is because Geno's gives bags and Pat's does

Help. I just bought a 12-pack of Kraft Deluxe
American slices at C-Town when there are perfectly nice real cheese shops
within walking distance.

Captain James Crabhouse

I don't (generally) love being a killjoy. In theory, the idea of an outdoor crab shack in Red Hook sounds pretty cool, like a Clemente's but walkable. I like the neighborhood because no matter how much it's touted as the next big thing, it never really happens, and with the exception of The Good Fork, crowds are never a problem (do not tell me Pok Pok is in Red Hook).

That's why as soon as I heard about shuttle buses from the Carroll Street station to Brooklyn Crab, my excitement deflated a little. Just a few weekends ago, there was a party bus blocking the street outside of Sunny's Saturday night (and this appeared to be separate from Bon Appetit's Grub Crawl on the same day, judging from the daylight in their pics). It's a bit much.  And I really, really wanted to eat crabs outdoors near the water.

Captain james duo

So, down to Baltimore it was (the Eastern Shore is preferable but on such short notice, there wasn't a single hotel room left) where crabs aren't cheap as one might think, but you're treated to some serious specimens and you'll genuinely get full, something that doesn't happen with the little crabs they serve at Brooklyn restaurant, Clemente's included. I didn't understand this before I experienced blue crabs in their element. For instance, if Brooklyn Crab is only charging $37 for a dozen those are going to be maybe mediums by Maryland standards and the amount of work it might take to extract any meat isn't worth it. I'm not saying the experience, enhanced by a few pitchers of beer, won't be enjoyable, but you won't eat much. You know you're having the real thing when you're offered a choice of medium, large, extra large or jumbos.

Mr. Bill's Terrace Inn is a serious crab restaurant in Baltimore. So serious that it's in a windowless building on the outskirts of town. Captain James is more picturesque, meaning more touristy, and that you can sit outside with your drinks and listen to Jimmy Buffet and The Eagles–or the Beach Boys, but only "Kokomo." There'll be a wait at either, but a more considerable one at Bill's.

Captain james crab

At Captain James, the Old Bay-encrusted jumbos (which were more like extra larges at Bill's) were $89 a dozen (like I said, not cheap) but you're paying for the amount and ease of extracting intact, substantial chunks of meat.  Some people ask for vinegar, others had squeeze bottles of Parkay. The white flaky flesh was sweet enough on its own, though.

Captain james hushpuppies

The only accompaniment we needed were hush puppies straight from the fryer. Still a little tender in the middle, these crispy dough balls were better than any I had in North Carolina where they were the bbq side of choice.

I think by Baltimore standards, this particular evening at Captain James would be what folks like to call a shitshow. But desensitized by Brooklyn shenanigans, I didn't think twice about waiting in line for 20 minutes or ten minutes passing before our harried waitress took our order (the pitcher of beer was brought out immediately so who cares?) until she apologized for how slammed they were. It was nothing.

Despite all the caveats of NYC crab eating, I 'm still curious about Brooklyn Crab, though maybe only on a non-shuttle bus weeknight, and not for the crab. The brutal Googa Mooga Yelp reviews from opening weekend only made the four-hour drive to Baltimore seem more reasonable.

Captain James Crabhouse * 2127 Boston St., Baltimore, MD


I knew Lexington Market is on the sketchy side (after being robbed in Canada–yes, Canada!–over a decade ago, I now pay heed to online naysayers even if I suspect they're exaggerating the level of danger and I feel like a know-it-all New Yorker). And I also knew that every time I've been to Baltimore I've missed the well-known crab cake at Faidley's (or is it just Faidley–it's spelled both ways all over the place) within the Lexington Market because I never get into town before Saturday closing time (5pm) and it's not open Sundays (a surprising number of businesses in this town aren't).

Faidley's crab cake

So, I got my crab cake this time, right alongside all the other camera-toting tourists standing up against the tall chairless tables exclusive to the restaurant. Jumbo lump, a little mayonnaise and mustard for binding, some cracker crumbs too, I imagine (though not much) and a packet of Saltines. Purist. I like a few shakes vinegary Tabasco to cut the richness. A can of Natty Boh rounds out the experience.

* * *

A trip to the public restroom, though, can add a whole other layer to the experience. Now, I knew better than to use the bathroom at Lexington Market, but after being in the car for hours, this was our first pitstop; I really had to go, busted or not. I imagined it would be like a Port Authority bathroom might be in the '70s but with fewer runaways, and I got my wish and then some.

The No Bathing, No Shaving, and many other Nos sign, immediately tipped me off to the scene. I saw boobs, I saw bellies. There were a lot of flesh-exposing bathing suits, despite our not being near a beach. A woman asleep in a wheelchair was apparently waiting for another woman in a wheelchair to vacate the handicapped stall. Hair was inexplicably wet. The line, which I was only third in, wouldn't budge until angry women of all ages began spilling out into the hall. The nearest stall contained a passed out woman. A polite pregnant woman had everyone in the tight quarters yelling at the passer-outer and pounding the door on her behalf (I'm equal opportunity and wondered why no one was mad at the woman in the handicapped stall who'd been taking up space just as long). Security was brought in. I had flashbacks to the women's prison-esque Lucille Roberts, the first gym I ever joined, on the Ridgewood-Bushwick border where ladies with neck tattoos would threaten anyone taking too long in the bathroom, "You'd better not be changing in there because you ain't got nothing I've haven't seen before!" To bring this back to food, McDonald's meals were also frequently eaten in the locker room.

I peed in 30 seconds and hightailed it out so fast (no, I did not wash my hands) that my skirt got caught up in the back of my underwear, and was told so by two women as I was about to head outside into the world. And I wasn't even remotely embarrassed.

But the clincher was that James, who was waiting outside the bathroom, had been approached by some of the angry mob. "You're with a white girl?" they asked. "She needs to get her ass out of that bathroom." I love that he was racially profiled, whether or not he seemed like someone who'd be with a middle-aged junkie or not. But more disconcertingly, he believed that I was the trouble-maker in the bathroom. As if that's my typical M.O. when just trying to get a crab cake in another city.

Faidley's raw bar

So, good crab cake, meatier than most, but not necessarily worth the trouble in a city where crab cakes aren't exactly hard to come by. I'll stick with Duda's where we went immediately afterward and got another one because day trips are for crustacean-filled gluttony.

Faidley's * 203 N. Paca St.,  Baltimore, MD

Eastern Shore…and More

Sure, all-you-can-eat crabs at Clemente’s is fun, if not unique in Brooklyn, but Maryland’s Eastern Shore it is not.

I spent the weekend leading up to Fourth of July in Kent Narrows, a little sliver on the Chesapeake between Annapolis and…I don’t really know what’s on the eastern side that’s too northwestern to be the more popular Rehoboth Beach or Ocean City. (I’m a west coaster, sorry.)

Crab deck front

You can get crabs at a number of restaurants in the area. I only acquiesced to the Crab Deck because it was James’ pick and he had been there many times before with his parents. Not that his family is neccessarily crab experts.

Crab deck dozen

Even closer to their home, crabs don’t come cheap. They are bigger than the blue crabs you often see here, though, and a dozen of larges split between two with a pitcher of beer is a feast. This Old Bay-encrusted pile will set you back about $65. James thought they were kind of small for larges, though they seemed ok to me. Jumbos are decadent. They didn't have Extra Larges.

Crab deck hushpuppies

Hushpuppies are the only accompaniment you need.

Crab deck patio

You can feed any leftovers to the plump ducks that hang out on the deck looking for scraps.

Crab deck bar

You can also have a drink at the bar while listening to John Cougar played by DJ Ritchie Lionel.

Big owl tiki

Big Owl Tiki Bar down the way made me feel young, pale and non-leathery. ‘70s music ruled. Whenever I drink out outside of NYC, I am reminded that people over 40 like to have a good time in public with alcohol. I’ve always attributed their absence here to delayed procreation (and that any female over 28 is made to feel old at most Brooklyn bars). Forties are prime child rearing years in the city where in other locales that’s the start of empty nesting. They’ve done their time; now they’re having fun.

Harris crab house facade

Harris Crab House does big business with busloads of tourists. I had to stand in this spot for some time to wait for them to pull away from the front of the restaurant (they were also blocking in our car).

Harris crab house soft crab sandwich

I just had a soft shell, or soft crab as they call them, sandwich since I’d just eaten six hard shells the night before.

Harris clams & beer

Once again showing my local ignorance, I thought soft shell clams would be the equivalent of soft shell, pardon, soft crabs, but they are the same thing as steamers and are called soft shell to distinguish them from the harder quahogs. On a fried bender here. And beer for breakfast.

The narrows facade

The Narrows is a little bit fancier, with tablecloths and grilled fish instead of brown paper and wooden mallets. It was also the scene of my first semi-in-restaurant marriage proposal. A boat slowly bobbed past the back picture windows while its inhabitants held a banner reading “Will you marry me?” If a situation ever called for a battered, fried ring, this would be it…but no.

Narrows crab dishes

Crab two more ways: in a dip (with Virginia ham—so local) and in a cake.

We then headed to the big city, influenced by the commercial loop on the Holiday Inn’s TV advertising mostly Annapolis restaurants over and over again. I watched the damn thing at least five times. Level was not part of the promotional show, but small plates (thankfully, they did not call them tapas) and mixology? Maybe.Why not take a break from beer in plastic cups and crustaceans?

As suspected, it was a little dude bro. This wasn’t a handlebar moustache establishment, more like fitted t-shirts and leather strap necklaces. Even so, not everyone was down with the concept. Two women out on the town, probably my age, which is to say older than 30 but not quite 40, sat at the bar on the opposite side of the corner and were asking about wine. The bartender suggested a pinot noir. One of the women firmly said, “no” and when the bartender left them with the menu she said loud enough that I could hear, but not that he could, “what a dipshit” and they stormed off. Total mismanaged expectations. Ladies wanted a richer oenophilic experience and dude just wanted to geek out on homemade bitters. It's a tough crowd in the big city.

Level cocktails

I wouldn’t exactly call the cocktails seasonal. My State Street Manhattan (maple cured old forester, cinnamon vermouth, apple bitters) was pure autumn. The Aviator (blue coat gin, maraschino, HUM liqueur, grapefruit juice) was a little brighter. The Smoked Margarita (hickory and lavender smoked herradura, lime, agave, smoked salt) was my favorite; summer but tweaked.
Level small plates

Grilled eggplant, ribs and lamb sausage with spaetzle (ok, more fall flavors).

Creamsicle Back to Kent Narrows, afterward. I’m still mildly traumatized by Red Eye’s Dock Bar, where I managed to talk the guards down to two for $5 instead of $10 to be in the thick of dancing wedding parties and a huge stage with a cover band belting out Warrant and Ozzy.

I was taken with a particular large, spiky bleach blonde, cartoonishly made up  wild woman, a biological woman, not a John Waters character as I had originally thought, who was picking fights with everyone and offered me a Mento from a roll she’d been hiding very successfully in her cleavage. She wrote down the recipe for a Creamsicle, the drink she’d been ordering all night.

I sympathized with her chaperone, a sane woman, her Facebook friend who never gets to go out, who couldn’t have been over 30, divorced with two grade school-aged kids with special needs. She told me how lucky I was not to be married or have children and seemed surprised that I’d come all the way from New York City to hang out at Red Eye’s. No obligations, that's me. But when she’s 40, maybe she’ll be free again? Right? Say yes, or I'm going to feel bad.

Crab deck signage

Mr. Bill’s Terrace Inn

Mr. bill's terrace inn entrance

“See?! I’m getting my Orioles hat out of the trunk.”

Mr. Bill’s is the kind of place where the older gentleman in slacks, who appears in photos at various ages on the wall along with maritime art and sports memorabilia, sits on a stool guarding the dining room from the bar and will begrudgingly take your name down. Maybe he doesn’t want you there. Locals only.

Mr. bill's terrace inn bar You’ll drink a couple Yuenglings at the substantial rectangular bar while kids commandeer the pool table and cropped-haired ladies who remind me of women my grandma would know, women who three decades ago might’ve worn t-shirts that said liquor in the front, poker in the rear, sip brown liquor on ice through little straws. Maybe you’ll be tempted to play Keno but shy away because you’ve only partaken in Oregon and maybe it’s different in Maryland. You don’t want to look like a New Yorker.

Mr. bill's terrace inn dining room If you’re lucky, your name will be called in under an hour and you’ll be led from one windowless room to another. Vinyl booths and long communal tables covered in brown paper. No metal cracking implements, just wooden mallets and sturdy plastic knives. It’s hard to say if it’s a bar with a restaurant or a restaurant with a bar. You’ll order a dozen Old Bay-encrusted crabs; big ones for $50-something or even bigger specimens for maybe ten dollars more. They’ll be worth the work; none of that shrunken crustacean all you can eat business where you burn out, fingers cut up and still hungry.

Mr. bill's terrace inn crabs

Mr. bill's terrace inn table

Mr. bill's terrace inn buckets In fact, you might not even be able to finish your share of crabs because you’ve ordered a pitcher of beer, and some cheddar-topped crab dip too. Served with pita triangles? That seems kind of fancy.

Mr. bill's terrace inn crab dip

On your way out, the gatekeeper slaps you on the back. No Baltimore cap needed, afterall.

Mr. bill's terrace inn sign

Mr. Bill's Terrace Inn * 200 Eastern Blvd., Essex, MD

Cafe Hon

I've never quite understood why lampooning certain white folk stereotypes like rednecks, hillbillies, guidos, WASPs and I guess hipsters  is considered fair game for anyone but poking fun of other ethnicities or religions is off limits. Really, I think everyone should be made fun, but that's neither here nor there.

I wasn't sure what to make of the whole "hon" phenomena in Baltimore (and apparently, a backlash is growing, so I'm not alone in my feelings). There's a fine line between homage and parody, and I realize the reverence for a gum chomping, cat-eye glass wearing, big-haired, working class archetype that's fading from the city's fabric is a harmless form of kitsch gone mainstream.

But it's strange. I couldn't imagine a New York version. The best example I can come up with would be if a younger, wealthier more educated demographic moved into, say, Bay Ridge (Staten Island might be more fitting after this incident) and started a guido movement complete with festivals where guys showed up with orange tans, waxed eyebrows, hair gelled into impossible spikes, gold chains, smooth muscled skin encased in form fitting tank tops.

And then someone opened a place called Café Guido and decked it out with lots of marble, Greek columns and lion statues. Actually, that would be kind of funny. But I don't know if would fly because guidos are steroidal and aggro. And you know, buildings have been known to mysteriously burn down.

So no, I don't think Café Hon is offensive, I just like tangents about strange snowballs of appropriated culture. And don't think that the clientele is mostly youngsters (though here, and nearly everywhere I went had at least one large group of Asians. I came to the conclusion that they must be Johns Hopkins students because the girls looked nerdy studious not quirky cutesy like the ones white dudes in Brooklyn like to date). When I was there for brunch, there were plenty of cranky old people. One gentleman with an oxygen tank couldn't get over the fact that there were no hot dogs or hamburgers on the brunch menu. He'd have to wait until 4pm for the burger on the dinner menu and hot dogs weren't going to happen at any hour.

Cafe hon omelet

The food is fine, nothing special. I had an omelet with bacon potatoes and sausage. I don't think my toast was buttered, and that didn't seem right.

Cafe hon grits and eggs

James had something with grits and a biscuit.

Red men's hall

I have no idea what goes on at the Red Men's Hall around the corner from the café, but it certainly seems like a relic of "hon" culture.

Cafe Hon * 1002 W. 36th St., Baltimore, MD

Henninger’s Tavern

1/2 I wanted to eat one “nice” meal in Baltimore. But defining nice isn’t easy. To me, nice is…well, if I had to use adjectives: upscale, modern and I guess intimate, though that sounds gross. Baltimore doesn’t have an Allen & Delancey or a Momofuku Ko (I’d have taken Ssam). And I guess this is why NYC is more unique than I give it credit for. It’s hard to complain about our dining options.

It appears that in Baltimore the more expensive restaurants are either a stodgy place you’d take a parent or have a business lunch or flashy and clubby likely serving mediocre tapas or pan-Asian food.

Woodberry Kitchen had potential but felt a bit precious and too locavore for my tastes. In my own version of eating local, I decided it would be best to choose a restaurant that could only be in Baltimore with an atmosphere unique to the city.

Henninger's interior

Henninger’s Tavern fit the profile perfectly. You enter through the bar; the narrow train car-esque dining room is off to the left. The walls are crammed with ephemera, pink elephant mobiles hang from the ceiling. If the word wasn’t so overused, I’d almost say it felt like a speakeasy, though one that organically evolved rather than born of strategic design. Not some Taavo Somer production but a gussied up chophouse with a sense of humor. The only place I can compare it to in NYC might be the rebounding Marion’s.

Henninger's oysters 

The food is a little fancy, not wildly creative, but solid. Still kind of full of pit beef from a late lunch, I probably didn’t need an appetizer at all. I still split an order of fried oysters just because I wanted them. And the breaded orbs sauced with a pernod-spiked cream dotted with fennel seeds certainly weren’t light.

Henninger's fisherman's stew

Fisherman’s stew was similar to a Portuguese caldeirada de peixe, except that there wasn’t any fish in it. There was a mound of shrimp, clams, mussels and octopus atop a substantial fried crouton that absorbed the sauce and turned into a soft edible bread sponge.

Henninger's peanut butter pie

We finished with a slice of peanut butter pie because I like my desserts sweet, fatty and American. It was 4th of July weekend. 

I wasn’t exaggerating when I said that they drink more in Baltimore than in NYC. To be more accurate, I was compelled to drink more in Baltimore than in NYC. In both bars and restaurants, servers are quick to bring drinks and eager to bring you more, there’s a palpable sense of disappointment when you say that you’re good. The atmosphere lends itself to drunkenness, kind of like Portland. I still can’t determine if my current wholly reasonable level of alcohol intake is because I’m no longer in my 20s or because I’m no longer in Portland.

After a pre-dinner whiskey sour at Henninger’s and two glasses of pinot noir with my meal, we moved onto the bar at the top of the Belvedere Hotel, which apparently has a salsa night on Saturdays. Strange because Baltimore didn’t strike me as a Latino hotbed (though we did drive through a strip of tacquerias and Mexican bodegas). A good portion of the crowd was made up of youngish white urban professionals but there were also middle aged Puerto Rican couples so what do I know. A margarita and gin and tonic were consumed there.

Then it was onto the Mount Royal Tavern, near the art school, which probably explains the bad art displayed on the walls. I went to art school so I know what I speak of, though I can say that I never made pencil sketches of Bob Marley in the privacy of my home let alone showed them in public. I had a pint of Magic Hat and a can of Natty Boh.

Following James’s trail of bars that he frequented 15 years ago we headed to Club Charles where we were half-heartedly carded and drank a gin and tonic. I was most taken with a girl who had ’50 cotton candy textured bleached white hair. There is most definitely a John Waters-influenced contingent thriving in Baltimore. I also observed that Goths are still alive and well but hang out a few buildings up the block.

That should’ve been it and 2am was rapidly approaching anyway. But James wanted to see the new and not necessarily improved Rendezvous Lounge, which apparently had moved kitty corner from its old location at some point in time, for all I know a decade ago. Supposedly in the early ’90s, the bar was of its era, filled with kitsch and playing the likes of Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash. I know the type of place.

Rendezvous lounge

Well, now it looks like a boarded up condemned house with only the faintest hint of signage, the letters long gone. I will grant that my perception was way off at this point, and perhaps it was actually a lovely, warm inviting space and not the barebones counter with shelves of liquor for sale (you can see in this photo—ignore the text which bizarrely uses the adjective “stylish”).

Creamed chipped beef There was only one other female patron, and minus her presence we were the only other white customers. I’m overly sensitive to feeling out of place, though, with all social strata and ethnicities. I don't think I have an element. It’s not that I have a problem with anyone (except bar-goers with strollers) I just fear that others will have a problem with me.

Never mind drunk driving, drunk shopping is more dangerous. We ended up at a large 24-hour supermarket buying Saga blue cheese, Little Debbie Zebra cakes, pizza-flavored Combos, a giant potato rosemary focaccia and a plastic bag of creamed chipped beef. It was only then that I could call it a night.

Henninger’s Tavern * 1812 Bank St., Baltimore, MD

Duda’s Tavern

Our attempt at post-dinner harbor-side firework watching was thwarted when a rainstorm kicked in and we were umbrella-less. I can take or leave fireworks so I wasn’t heartbroken that we missed most of the display while trying to find parking in Fell’s Point (it was still nothing compared to NYC scrambling for spots).

James wanted to pop into the Wharf Rat, a place he’d been a million years ago. I would’ve gone anywhere because I didn’t know enough about the city to be discriminating. Fell’s Point Unfortunately, it was temporarily closed with a handwritten sign that the staff had left to watch the fireworks. I got the impression that Thames Street is Baltimore’s Bourbon/Beale/South Street, the bar-lined meat-heady strip that all cities seem to have.

I wasn’t extremely hungry because I’d just eaten half a dozen crabs (well, five out of 12) but I did want to try a crab cake while in Baltimore and I knew nearby Duda’s was rumored to serve an exemplary specimen.

Duda's tavern crab cake

This turned out to be true, and in no time we were presented with a loose baseball-sized mass of lump crab meat minus a lot of nonsense holding it together. Listed as market price, I was wondering what the damage would be. $13.99, as it worked out; a good deal considering crab cakes here tend to be flat, pancakey, 50% filler and cost at least as much.

Two packets of saltine crackers, potato chips, tartar sauce and a choice of coleslaw or potato salad come on the side.

I intended to eat another crab cake the following day at Faidleys but I ended up getting distracted by pit beef instead. Now I’ll never know how Duda’s version stacks up against the local competition.

Duda’s Tavern * 1600 Thames St., Baltimore, MD

Chaps Pit Beef

To be honest, I was kind of disinterested in pit beef. I knew that it was a regional form of barbecue but I’m not one who goes gaga over piles of smoked (which this isn’t, technically it’s grilled) meat. But as I’ve often found with vacation food, you never know what will be a hit. We ended up at Chaps two days in a row, despite a big poster of Guy Fieri near the order window. That’s saying something.

Chapps pit beef sandwich

You generally eat pit beef, cooked rare and sliced thin, as a sandwich on a kaiser roll. It’s nothing like Arby’s, though on the surface that’s how the sandwiches appear. But they do have a horsey sauce kept on ice in one of a handful of squeeze bottles provided for doctoring. Plain thick horseradish is the traditional condiment. I added the chilled spicy white sauce, Tabasco sauce and a few pickles. Perfection.

Chapps interior

With a side of fries and an indoor picnic table (I’m very pro-air conditioning) you have a fine meal. It’s not as if the outdoor view is particularly noteworthy anyway. Chaps is next door to a gentleman’s club and this strip of the Pulaski Highway is lined with liquor stores, adult book stores, convenience stores and little else.

Of interest to me because I’m a reuben fan despite rarely eating them, was their special board advertising its sister sandwich, the rachel. I’ve heard of this treat that swaps corned beef and sauerkraut for turkey and coleslaw but I’ve never seen one first hand. I still haven’t seen one up close. A guy in line behind us ordered one but I didn’t want to stare.

We got sandwiches and ribs to go on the way out of town and I’m glad we did because there’s nothing grosser than a New Jersey turnpike rest stop Sunday night at the tail end of a holiday weekend. I did have to wait in a 40+ deep line to use the bathroom at one point but I wasn’t about to queue for heat lamp Roy Rogers fare when we had the real deal in the car. We did grab some paper bags and napkins from the chain to use as barriers on the storm-soaked picnic tables beyond the parking lot, though.

Chaps ribs

We ate the ribs for dinner when we got home around 9pm rather than the anticipated late afternoon. I don’t think we will be driving anywhere July 4, 2009.

Chaps exterior

Chaps Pit Beef * 5801 Pulaski Highway, Baltimore, MD