There is nothing quite like steamed crabs on summer’s day. The Maryland blue crab is without equal as the ultimate fingerfood and a great culinary democratizer. The complex structure of the crab renders everyone into patient, crab-meat pickers, swinging little wooden mallets to crack the shells, before going after every little morsel to get a mouthful. It doesn’t take long for the air to become thick with bits of crustacean, nor for the participants to begin wearing the guest of honor. And the blue crab is an expert accompanist. It goes equally well with white wine, beer, a Tom Collins, or a planters punch.
My buddy Dick and I have made numerous two-wheeled pilgrimages up and down the Eastern Shore, and in small towns that hint at a maritime connection in pursuit of the perfect steamed crab. The Crab Claw Restaurant, in St. Michaels, MD offers one of the most genteel settings for the consumption of the blue crab, overlooking the yachts of wealthy WASPs, initially launched on the sweat of the proletariat. Yet some of the best crabs within an easy riding distance of Chester County, Pa are steamed in modest “shacks.”
Captain Bob’s Crabs House on Main Street in tiny Railroad, Pa, (Route 851) continually sets the high-water mark for steamed Maryland blue crab.The ambiance is defined by a small, air conditioned dining room. This is enough on a July day. The crabs are succulent, fresh, and perfectly seasoned. Depending on the size, they run $30 - $65 a dozen.
Getting to this place is a pisser.
Choose any one of a variety of backroads that take you through the Amish communities between Lancaster and the Maryland stateline. Cross the Susquehanna River on the picturesque Rt. 372, and turn left on Rt. 74. In a mile or two, turn Rt. onto Rt. 851. This stretch is 15 miles of twisties, changes in elevation, and open farms. Some of the road surface is milled. Railroad, Pa is about ten minutes past the intersection where I-83 passes over Rt. 851. Don’t blink. Look for “Bob’s” on the right as soon as you cross the tracks.
One of the most peculiar places we’ve stopped for crabs is the Hopkins Crab Shack, on Rt. 222, between the towns of Conowingo and Port Deposit, in Maryland. This is the area’s oldest and strangest crab shack. A collection of ramshackle buildings that have been flooded a few times, the Hopkins crab shack offers mediocre crabs and fantastic steamed shrimp. If you have to take a piss, you can go in the woods. The place is on hard times. It would be worth it just to hit this joint with 20 riders at least once next season (if there is one). This is the kind of place that gets swallowed up by history. Again, getting here is most of the fun. We ride Rt. 926 (Pa) west to Rt. 10 (Pa), south to US-1 (Pa), southwest to Rt. 222 (Md), which runs right past the place.
Rt. 222 (Md) is really pretty here, running alongside the river. The cops watch it in the summer, especially on Sundays. It is the address of the Union Hotel and Bar, which is a big Harley hang out. You can find six acres of chrome outside this place on any summer Sunday.
Yet one of the big surprises for great crab is a little joint on Rt. 662, just above Douglassville, Pa. The place looks like an ice cream stand. That’s because it is. (They have a sign up that says, “Crabs.”) Once inside though, you discover they have an extensive seafood menu -- steamed and fried. Although the steamed crabs must be consumed on a picnic table outside, due to flying crustacean detritus. We ordered a pound of steamed shrimp and a dozen medium crabs. Lunch took about 90-minutes of crab meat mining. The crab and shrimp were excellent.
My arthritis was bugging me, the day was nice, a breeze was blowing, and I was in no hurry to get back on the bike. Dick starting putting on his ballistic Spiderman costume, however. This involves no less than 16 separate parts. He was in the middle of this ritual when a car, driven by a hot patootie of a young blond pulled into the lot, and stopped twenty feet away from us.
I have a sixth sense about these things.
She glanced around and started to change her clothes in the car. Off came the sweat shirt to reveal the skimpiest Victoria’s Secret brassiere that I had seen in a long time.
Dick had his back to her.
“Aren’t you going to put your jacket on,” said Dick.
I sat in silence, afraid to break the spell.
“Are you all right?” asked Dick.
The blond was fussing with the buttons of another top, getting ready to put it on.
“What’s the matter?” asked Dick.
“Turn around,” I hissed.
“What?” asked Dick.
“I said ‘turn around,’ “ I hissed, like steam escaping from a pipe.
“You want me to turn around?” asked Dick.
“Yes,” I hissed, in a stage whisper that could be heard two hundred yards away.
Dick turned around and froze like a deer caught in two Victoria Secret headlights.
The blonde put on the blouse, combed her hair, and stepped out of the car. She walked right passed us, smiling, and went into the crab place.
“Was that why you were just sitting here?” asked Dick, incredulous.
The ride home with Dick is always quick.
©Copyright 2008 Jack Riepe -- All rights reserved
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac-Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Delphi)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)