Baltimore is famous for baseball's Orioles, football's Ravens and the choice setting of pretty well every movie made by John Waters. Further down the list is the city's reputation for whipping up the best crab cakes in the country, a secret to much of the U.S., except for seafood fanatics in the rest of New England.
The draw is in the crustaceans, namely the Maryland Blue Crabs which crawl around in abundance in the Chesapeake Bay, just southwest of the city. Foodies love the crab for its buttery, sweet taste and soft texture. As for what makes Baltimore crab cakes so unique, most folks declare they're best broiled to retain the flavor, although a vocal minority prefers them fried, as long as you have the right cooking oil to pull the task off.
Those who would rather just eat them after the shellfish have been caught and cooked can check out dozens of eateries with their variations on classic crab cakes. Here are a few that regularly top the lists around town.
One dining spot that regularly hits a plethora of top 1o lists in Baltimore when it comes to crab cakes is Koco's Pub (4301 Harford Rd.) which isn't afraid to call their variation on the dish "world famous," given the thousand cakes that hit pub plates weekly. The servings are also gargantuan at 11 ounces, double the mass of a baseball.
And with all that, they promise plenty of creamy crab with next to no filler; the taste alone apparently eliminates any need for additives. Those who want to spice that giant serving are best advised to splash on a bit of Old Bay, Maryland's favorite seasoning.
Koco's doesn't stop there, offering four crab cake dishes. Besides serving it solo, you can have in a sandwich, a roll or on a platter, served with such options as potato chips, fries, cole slaw or Caesar salad.
Jimmy's Famous Seafood
Jimmy's Famous Seafood (6526 Holabird Ave.) isn't merely famous for earning a forks-up endorsement from TV celebrity chef Guy Fieri, although that's a distinction most eatery owners would die for. Admittedly, the joint is notorious during March Madness when the owners promise free crab cakes for life to anyone able to predict the winner of every NCAA match in the tournament. The offer gets a lot of feedback, mostly because the regulars really value those appetizers as highly as pure gold.
And no wonder. Jimmy's crab cakes have become a must-taste experience for residents and visitors alike. So popular are the eight-ounce appetizers, Jimmy's has refrained from tampering with the recipe since the spot opened in 1974. Yep, those cakes are done the same way as they were back when the North Carolina State NC State Wolfpack won the college hoops title.
An additional bonus? The kitchen won't argue over how you want your cakes cooked. They'll obligingly broil or fry it. Then they'll serve to you with a wide array of veggie choices.
Most folks who order their crab cakes in Baltimore get their appetizers on a plate, but Woodberry Kitchen (2010 Clipper Park Rd.) takes the presentation a step further. They bring the delicacies to patrons in a skillet right from the kitchen with thinly sliced potatoes, asparagus, and a few other veggies. And if you prefer your cakes broiled, there's no argument from the staff on that option, since that's the only way Woodberry insists on cooking them.
Besides broiling these six-ounce appetizers, the lumps of crab are mixed with an assortment of oil, fish pepper and egg to ensure they not only don't fall apart in the cooking process but tasty as well. They're also sticklers for ensuring diners that what reaches the tables is totally locally made. Chesapeake fishermen catch the crabs, which are sent to be steamed and selected at a plant on Hoopers Island before being delivered to Woodberry.
In fact, the management is so insistent about the local authenticity of their food sources, they recently spearheaded a True Blue campaign with other restaurants to certify that the crab and other ingredients come from Maryland.
This piece would be remiss if it didn't mention Phillips Seafood, featuring a family recipe on how to prepare crab cake, served with a few choice hits of butter, lemon, and mustard. As well, Downtowners flock to Chick & Ruth's Delly, which serves up a half-pound version of Baltimore crab cake, featuring an egg-white filler that makes it also suitable as a breakfast treat. And several suburbanites swear by the old-school cuisine of the brown and breaded crab cakes served at C.J.'s Crabhouse & Grill.
Regardless of their diner preferences, there's no doubt that folks in Baltimore take their crabcakes seriously. When the city's lacrosse team is called the Crabs and a scene from John Waters' Hairspray features the crowning of Miss Baltimore Crabs, that's nothing short of dedication!