1/2 This wouldn’t be the first time that my out-of-town eating plans were thwarted by the vacations of others. Taking time off during summer? Restaurateurs don’t make a habit out of warm weather breaks in NYC. Uglesich’s (before it closed for good) and a handful of other places were shuttered when I was last in New Orleans, and like every tapas place on my list was out of commission the week I was in Barcelona two summers ago.
It didn’t occur to me that my first place crab house choice, Mr. Bill’s Terrace, might have the entire week beginning July 4th off. It’s a shame because I was liking what I was seeing on the way to Essex (I’m not sure if that’s a neighborhood or township): Teenagers with carp moustaches and non-ironic fedoras topping long frizzy locks. I spied timewarp youngsters that could out-hesher the best the Northwest has to offer. Scrawny Jack Sprat men in denim cutoffs and (once again, non-ironic) trucker hats with enormous wives were not rare either. I saw more wheelchairs in Baltimore in two-and-a-half days than I’ve practically seen in a decade in NYC (I’ve never understood what the big deal with using the handicapped stall was because no one here seems to be in need of them, but at a Nordstrom bathroom there were two disabled women waiting to use one). And cats just sit in the middle of the road, not even flinching when drive up near them (I would never hit an animal—we drove up on a belligerent feline to try and figure out why it wouldn’t move. It seemed that it simply didn’t want to).
And I liked what I saw when we arrived at the windowless box of a restaurant. I could smell peppery-sweet Old Bay in the air. I imagined Keno, pitchers of beer and the lingering stench of cigarette smoke despite a half-year indoor ban being in effect. But everything was locked up tight. We only found out that they were closed for the week when a woman in the parking lot told us so. No, I never call ahead when trying new restaurants.
I racked my brain for choice number two, Costas Inn, which I didn’t think was terribly far from where we were (nothing in Baltimore seemed a great distance from each other). We weren’t making the same mistake again and called to confirm they were open for dinner on Independence Day. They were, but uh, they didn’t have any crabs. I was starting to lose hope.
Dramatically, a severe thundershower struck adding a literal dampening to my already floundering spirits.
I had ignored James’s favorite Baltimore crab house, Obrycki’s, because it’s some weird tradition he has with his family and I hate family traditions. I wanted to do my own thing and at 6:30pm it didn’t seem likely to get in without reservations.
The only other option I had stored in memory was Bo Brooks. It was the dead opposite of Mr. Bill’s. Some places you have to look past the dump to admire the food. Here, you had to get over the cheesy vibe. I kind of knew it would be touristy but didn’t realize how much so, like a chain, maybe Margaritaville (even though I’ve never been to one), sterile, corporate, but with a good view of the harbor (it was the only one with outdoor seating, not that I ever choose alfresco over air conditioning) and substantial crabs.
Certainly, the fact that they serve crabs all year long when the other eateries don’t is telling. Not that I have any locavore tendencies. I couldn’t tell the difference between imported Asian crabs and Chesapeake blue crabs in a million years.
Crabs are not cheap anywhere—there aren’t bargains to really be had short of catching them yourself. Bo Brooks had large, extra large, jumbo and colossal. Our extra large dozen set us back $75. They certainly were hefty, dwarfing the crustaceans at Brooklyn’s Clemente’s (scene of last year’s birthday—2008’s is rapidly approaching and that doesn’t sit well with me).
Crabs are a strange food. For me, it’s next to impossible to get even close to full because I spend so much time messing with the shells. I’m still learning cracking strategies and managed to cut up my fingers and bloodied my pinky. I think I’d starve to death on an all-crab diet. But eventually I managed to extract pristine white nuggets that actually required a few chews.
Even James, the crab snob between the two of us, conceded that these were good. And I was inclined to agree. I think heavy is the term for crabs where the proportion of meat is high. And 11 of this 12 fit that definition.
We started with bottles (classy) of Natty Boh and quickly moved onto a pitcher of Hoegaarden (only because it was the special). We were initially dismayed at their pitcher-less drink menu until we realized that pitchers are a given in Baltimore, rather than something requiring an explicit mention.
Bo Brooks * 2701 Boston St., Baltimore, MD