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.)
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.
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.
Hushpuppies are the only accompaniment you need.
You can feed any leftovers to the plump ducks that hang out on the deck looking for scraps.
You can also have a drink at the bar while listening to John Cougar played by DJ Ritchie Lionel.
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 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).
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Grilled eggplant, ribs and lamb sausage with spaetzle (ok, more fall flavors).
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.