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October 14, 2008

Top 10 fancy crab cakes with an interesting twist

RedMapleLobsterCrab.jpgThis Top 10 started with a query by the editor of AirTran's Go magazine.

I thought fancy crab cakes with an interesting twist would make a good Top 10, but I quickly realized that you can only make a crab cake interesting in three ways: How you season it, what you sauce it with, and what you serve with it.

I also realized that most of the list would come from fine-dining restaurants downtown because tourists want crab cakes. So no matter what kind of restaurant you are -- Italian, Asian fusion, genteel Southern -- if you're in the harbor area, you have to offer one. But you don't have to be boring about it.

Remember, these are fancy restaurant crab cakes. If you want to see the Top 10 list of crab cakes in general, click here.

And here's my list of Top 10 fancy crab cakes with an interesting twist: ...

* Black Olive in Fells Point. The olive oil-based homemade mayonnaise that comes with the mezze lump crab cake is what makes it special.

* Brasserie Tatin in Homewood. The kitchen has an interesting twist on the crab cake: lobster meat. It mixes the crab with lobster and pan-sears the result.

* Charleston in Harbor East.  I had a delicious baby crab cake with avocado, Silver Queen corn and cilantro oil. The menu changes but I bet that's a recurring item.

* Della Notte in Little Italy. Two Maryland-style jumbo lump crab cakes, basil vinaigrette, tomato-olive relish.

* Fin in Fells Point. I recommend the crab cake trio appetizer: one miniature traditional, one Asian with sesame seeds and a soy-based sauce, one southwestern-spicy with a chipotle sauce.

* Gertrude's in the Baltimore Museum of Art.  Besides the traditional crab cake, Gertrude's has a crab cake du jour, and there's a long list of sauces, like orange and chipotle, you can try with it.

* Pierpoint in Fells Point. Nancy Longo's famous smoked crab cake with a Silver Queen corn cake.

* Pisces in the Baltimore Hyatt.  This was one of the best crab cakes I've had all year. The twist was horseradish sauce as an accompaniment.

* Red Maple in Mount Vernon. The Asian crab cakes with wasabi aioli, among others, have been on the ever-changing tapas menu in the past.

* Watertable in the Inner Harbor. A jumbo lump crab cake with citrus segments, greens, fried polenta, citrus sauce.

(Monica Lopossay/Sun photographer: Red Maple's lobster and lump crab cake with tandoori-spiced vegetable slaw and pomegranate drizzle)

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 4:18 AM | | Comments (54)
Categories: Crab Cakes, Top Ten Tuesdays


Sorry, EL, but the aforementioned list is exactly what I DON'T want in a crab cake.

They all sound interesting, but they're not the real deal "Baltimore Crab Cake."

Touristy indeed.

Wasabi aioli? Olive oil-based mayo? Asian with sesame seeds? Not on OUR authentic, distinctively hometown crabcakes, thank you!

This is Balmer, hon.

We know who we are, why we love this town and what our crabcakes should look and taste like.

Let some faraway, uninformed city try something so absurd. Just keep those frills, ruffles and fufus away from Charm City.

Pass the Old Bay, please.

bleacher and donny,

cant you idiots read and see that this is a list of fancy crab cakes as she clearly points out: "Remember, these are fancy restaurant crab cakes. If you want to see the Top 10 list of crab cakes in general, click here. "

Finally the crab cake is free of its lumpen-proletariat Old Bay repression. I always felt that crab was an ingredient that had been unjustly fettered by the restraints of pedestrian spices and accompaniments. Live free on the plate lowly scuttler of the bay, express yourself without the scorn of the bourgeois masses. Thanks for dumpin' the lumpen.

Years ago I was in San Diego at a fancy seafood place hoping to try the local fare - when I spotted on the menu a "Baltimore Style Crabcake with Garlic Butter Sauce" or something to that effect. I asked the poor waiter if the chef had ever been to Baltimore - I am normally not a jerk like that but I had to speak up...

I'm not fond of Old Bay (too much celery), so some of these sound pretty interesting.

I wish Marylanders would celebrate the crab itself more, rather than their self-satisfied Flintstonian Old Bay habit. I think the sweet and earthy taste of crab meat blends perfectly with some of the Asian or tropical flavors that are aromatic and tangy. It really offsets the crab well, like a good frame does for a painting.

Olive oil? Crabs seem to exist everywhere in the world, why not adapt them to the local flavors? It's not like the aroma of celery seed (in Old Bay) and mustard seed anoint the air of the Chesapeake as you steer your schooner into port. May I suggest a full-on Mediterranean treatment with fragrant black olives, garlic, olive oil, capers and slivers of jamón serrano. ¡Crabtastico!


Yes, I'm well aware of EL's point that these are "fancy" (i.e. non-traditional) crab cakes. And my point is that "fancy" twists ruin aan alrady good thing.

If it aint broke, don't fix it....hon!.

Owlmeat did you just make a Marxist crab cake joke with "lumpen"? Well done Comrade Gravy. (I thought you were mister free market?)

you were mister free market?

Thanks glen. I have a free range ideology. Many tools in the tool box. Besides, Republicans are nationalizing the banks. Up is down. We're talking real fire and brimstone here! Dogs and cats sleeping together! End of the world stuff!

Down here, the Boatyard makes a great crab cake dish, called Southernmost Crab Cakes. They use a creole remoulade and put a little pineapple salsa on top.

I'm remembering a place at Loch Raven & Taylor...The Crack Pot, or something like that, that had a series of themed crab yes, I've strayed from the Old Bay path, but I always come back!

Those Marylanders, clinging to their guns, religion and Old Bay...

The first time I had a crab cake was with my buddy Freebo on leave in Saigon in '68. We got some fried crab cakes at the Ben Thanh market with a tangy sauce. They were amazing. The seemed to have all the flavors of the ocean and the jungle. When I moved to Maryland I was excited about crab cakes but the "traditional" ones are kind of boring. Thanks for the list.

If it's not in Escoffier, then it's not traditional, as my friend Roberto says.

I make crab cakes with ginger, chives, roasted garlic, cilantro, seared shallots, and saffron butter. My relatives from Croatia and Jesus (the pool boy) go crazy for them. Viva la difference!

Bryanintimonium ... I have to know: did you actually order the crab cake in San Diego? or just ask about it? It would do my heart good to know that there is someone else from this neck of the woods who tries foreign crabcakes so that our comrades might be spared. (The one sampled last night in Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives looked to be equal parts by weight crab and bread, though the seasoning selection was promising.)

Old Bay is a religion.

Loyalty to Old Bay is just being a cog in the corporate structure. Anybody worth their salt would make their own crab seasoning the way Indian families grind their own curry.. Loyalty to a corporate product is just the surrender of free will. Rejecting innovation makes you a corporate tool. Let a thousand spices bloom.

You crab cake fanatics are crazy! The trad Baltimore way is just meatloaf of the sea. Completely unimaginative. Bravo to the blog for elevating expensive diner food to something worth shouting about.

did you forget about the carlyle club and it's lebanese style crab cake that won best crab cake a few years back (balto mag i think)?

Tell us, Owl Meat, do you also make your own salt from seawater, the way Gandhi did?

Are you having any pool parties terriermom? Saffron butter? Mmmm, sounds porntastic.

We should start our own hipster crab cake club.

Amanda C's (tongue firmly planted in cheek) "Mediterranean crab cake" actually sounds good to me, but I draw the line at Rob PCB's pineapple salsa--gack!

Tell us, Owl Meat, do you also make your own salt from seawater, the way Gandhi did?

Why yes I do, but my method is better. My cousin has a house in Brittany and when I visit her we usually make a trek to the Guérande salt marshes and harvest some fleur de sel. Because it's so coarse, I put some in a coffee grinder when I need a fine finsihing salt. I never trust white salt.

Little know fact colonists. The crab cake was invented and perfected by a French chef in the 18th century when you were still chasing rabbits with sticks. Learn from the masters.

It was actually quite tasty and not a lot of pineapple in the salsa.

Pineapple is big down here. Like this place, where I watch Ravens games on Sunday.

Pierre A. - in the 18th century my ancestors were perfecting ways to grow and butcher chickens in the Ukraine and plotting how to get to America.

At any rate in 1685 "To fry Crabs
Take the meat out of the great claws being first boiled, flour and fry them and take the meat out of the body strian half if it for sauce, and the other half to fry, and mix it with grated bread, almond paste, nutmed, salt, and yolks of eggs, fry in clarified butter, being first dipped in batter, put in a spoonful at a time; then make sauce with wine-vinegar, butter, or juyce of orange, and grated nutmeg, beat up the butter thick, and put some of the meat that was strained into the sauce, warm it and put it in a clean dish, lay the meat on the sance, slices of orange over all, and run it over with beaten butter, fryed parasley, round the dish brim, and the little legs round the meat."
---The Accomplist Cook, Robert May, facsimile 1685 edition [Prospect Books:Devon]

The Mullet Festival is this weekend! I think they mean the fish though.

If you want to know, more on the mullet festival:

In Niceville FL (what a name), where I can fly up to Baltimore at a reasonable price! The airport uses Eglin AFB runways, and it takes like 15 minutes from landing to taxi to the terminal.

Isn't "God, guns and Old Bay" by Front 242?

PCB Rob -- you may be the first person in recorded history who looks forward to going to Eglin AFB. (Isn't Eglin the site of the Federal Prison Camp where Marvin Mandel cooled his heels for a stretch of time?)

I remember being on a Southern Airways flight from Dulles to Orlando in the 1970s that stopped at every minor-league runway in between -- Columbus, Georgia; then Dothan, Alabama; then Eglin (identified as Fort Walton Beach, not Niceville), Tallahassee, and, finally, Orlando. I think the flight contined thereafter to Miami.

I figured the mullet festival would be held in The Dena.


I did not try indeed, try the foreign crabcake. I was mortified at the insult given to that sweet, delicate, snowy white backfln lump in the form of a garlic sauce.

The only other non Maryland crabcake I had was in the Outer Banks in NC. I ordered a "lump crabcake" from a seafood restaurant's menu and what arrived looked like an enormous hushpuppy. Needless to say, it was made with stringy, cheap meat, gobs of mayo and canned breadcrumbs. YUCK. Never again a crabcake outside of MD.

What's all this talk of seasoning crabcakes with old bay? In the recipe that's been handed down in my family, old bay is optional. I won't give away any secrets but there are other spices to use that can better bring out the flavor of pure crabmeat in cake form.

OK, the crab cake shark is jumped. We can go back to beating a dead horse.
Pierre A. (one needn't guess what A must stand for (no extra points for suggesting it's the second letter in Jay C.), I take exception to your drubbing of Quebec by referring to its inhabitants as "colonists", which, perhaps, they technically are, given they are widely reported to be ... French. However, regardless its accuracy, don't you find it quite gauche to gratuitously point out painful, obvious facts? Shame on you. Moreover why bring up Quebec in a discussion of twisted crab cakes? Don't tell me, let me guess: you were trying to be comically loutish, a la Jerry Lewis. Nice try. Hero worship can be so cute.
As to your little known "fact", Pierre, it is not so much little known as utterly dismissed. Multitudes flock to Baltimore to eat crab cakes because Baltimore perfected the contemporary crab cake, hon. Your iteration of French perfected taking credit for perfecting it in the 18th century; which, if you're into eating 300-year-old crab cakes, must swell your chest like a hairy puff pastry.
Pass the Old Bay.

Mister Bakin what is your domage? Nobody speaks of Quebec. They are not French any more than you are the enlgish. I mean les Baltimoroise. I say colonist of affection. Not to smash it in your face but no French chef will uses cans of spices like the Olde Bay. Perfected the crab cake? Ah, come come culinary is an art not a factory my fiend. Perhaps you have a sonnet about the ketchup?

That must have been some journey back then.

The airport still is identified as Fort Walton Beach by the airlines, but its in the town of Valparaiso, which is why its code is VPS. I drive through Niceville to get there. The name of the airport recently changed from Okaloosa Regional to Northwest Florida Regional Airport.

Confusing, for sure.

Eglin AFB is huge, pretty much covers all of Okaloosa County.

Looky there, it's the rarest of all birds, the Angry Canadian. It's just not natural. I think your anger of unknown source is melting your mind. You jammed three animals into weak metaphors within ten words. Things that only make sense if you have a talking griffon or a conversation in your head that we can't hear: Quebec, hero worship, and Jay C.

Baltimore perfected the contemporary crab cake, hon.

Really? "Baltimore" did this by dumping an industrial seasoning invented in the late 1940s onto a crab croquette? That Baltimore entity is a real genius.

Come on, who doubts that the French invented 80% of everything tasty? Pass the foie gras ma petite chou Canadienne.

If you're going to lash out, at least try to make sense. Remember the words of Mr. Lydon:

I could be wrong I could be right
I could be black I could be white
Your time has come your second skin
The cost so high the gain so low
Walk through the valley
The written word is a lie

May the road rise with you

Anger is an energy
Anger is an energy

Reverend Ed's Law of the Conservation of Ire:
Anger is neither created nor destroyed.

Use it wisely.

What's with the server lately? I tried to post something about ten times yesterday and your server failed every time. So here it is again:

I like the picture. Crab cakes with LASERs. Now that's fancy. If only I could get them on my sharks.

Mon dieu! Pierre trying to reason with some crazy dude. Worlds collide. A little advice Bakin, if you don't make sense compared to Pierre, then you need a serious reboot.

Your iteration of French perfected taking credit for perfecting it in the 18th century; which, if you're into eating 300-year-old crab cakes, must swell your chest like a hairy puff pastry.

That sentence deserves some kind of award. Just the first clause is a diagramming nightmare. I dare anyone to make sense of the first seven words. Apoplexy makes for bad syntax.

Iterate I thusly.

NB: Special award for insane use of the semi-colon. (Nod to Mr. McIntyre.)

VP, I don't know what's up with the server but it's like giving birth to get a post to go through lately!

I love crab cakes. Traditional crab cakes are great but I'm an adventurous foodie so I appreciate the "twists" on an old classic.

Fin, Gertrude's and Watertable, I'm putting you on my list of places to be! Thanks, Elizabeth, for a great post (and for including links to the restaurants).

I am confusioned

Shouldn't that be AirTran not Trans Air? Trans Air is all tranny all the time.

Thanks. EL

Pierre, recognizing your problem is the first step. I admit that I am often confusioned! Glad to find a cellmate.

Interesting list, EL, but I couldn't afford to enter the doors of most of those establishments even if I were employed. Never mind that I don't care for crab cakes. Apparently there aren't any affordable fancy crab cakes.

P Rob - Most of my reason for seldom buying crab cakes out is the price factor. Santoni's Market in Glyndon has been running wicked weekly specials on jumbo lump, last week I believe was 14 dollars a pound. If one were to have an interesting crab recipe, one could have a dinner party for 4 for the price of one meal "on the list". Maybe we need to see if any of the chefs above will part with their "fancy" crab cake recipes...

BTW, is it just me or does everyone else think that lump and jumbo lump are rather recent arrivals on the seafood market scene? I swear that at one time backfin was the best you could get?? right?

Affordable and fancy generally don't go together. When was the last time you got an orchid as garnish at a diner?

Piano Rob,

If you don't care for crabcakes, why are you concerned about their affordability?

Joyce W., crabcakes made from jumbo lump crabmeat are indeed non-traditional. Crabcakes traditionally were inexpensive blue-collar food. Hard to believe nowdays, isn't it?

I made some very tasty crabcakes earlier this week with Maryland crabmeat (backfin, but not lump) from Santoni's in Highlandtown. The primary downside of the none-lump backfin meat for the home cook is that it's harder to pick out any residual shell.

The "blended backfin" crabmeat that the Canton Safeway carries nowadays, on the other hand, is a pain to work with.

I find it somewhat ironic that I usually can get better crabmeat at the blue-collar supermarket in Highlandtown (Santoni's) then at the yuppie supermarket in Canton (Safeway).

In a related irony, I can get live lobster at the Giant in Dundalk, but I can't get it in Canton.

Hal, I find the Canton Safeway is an excellent place to get kitty litter (one of my cats insists on their store brand), but everything else is either processed crap, way too expensive or they don't have it.

So, I'm not surprised you can get better crabmeat at Santoni's than at Safeway.

Besides, the area around Santoni's is far more entertaining than around Safeway. I keep meaning to try the new Peruvian chicken place across the street from Santoni's.

Hal: I was actually commenting on the price scales of the eateries listed.

Jack's Bistro has been doing a horseradish aoli with their crabcake since they opened. I hardly believe that Gertrude's pioneered this. It has been much talked about that restaurant workers hang out and eat at Jack's.

Are all these people graduates of the "Madeline" School.

I am sure you guys all remember the PBS programs hosted by locals who showed this cooking show where Madeline messed up "Maryland Crab Cakes" and the fall out there of.

I think variations are find, but it should be advertised AND prepared that they also serve real Maryland Crab Cakes. Period.

oh boy i can hardly wait. who's gonna be the first with strawberry crab cakes? would strawberry crab shortcakes be desert? in my best veruca salt impersonation, "but daddy, i want one nooooooooooow!

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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