Cracked Claw brings back the wacky spirit of Never-Never Land

RESTAURANTS

September 20, 1991|By Lynn Williams | Lynn Williams,Sun Restaurant Critic

Good old Peter Pan still hasn't grown up.

Remember Peter Pan? For kids who grew up in the Baltimore, Washington and Frederick areas, Peter Pan-the-restaurant was nearly as memorable as Peter Pan-the-literary-classic. (The book, the Mary Martin version or the Disney cartoon, take your pick.) This was the definitive special occasion dinner place. The old country house with its scrolly New Orleans ironwork, fountains and statuary was delightfully wacky and decadent -- not a bit like our suburban homes. And what kid could forget that fried chicken, those neat sugar-dusted corn fritters, and especially the peacocks in the courtyard?

I was delighted to learn that Peter Pan is still with us, and that it hasn't been made bland and tasteful. Yes, it's called the Cracked Claw now, and specializes in seafood instead of Southern, but it's still just about the coolest-looking place in the universe. It's somewhere between kitschy and sublime, like La Fontaine Bleu re-imagined by Blanche du Bois.

In other words, it's still Never-Never Land.

There's a full dinner menu offered on Friday and Saturday nights, but the Cracked Claw is famous for its "Colossal Calabash," an all-you-can-eat, $17.95 seafood buffet available Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday evenings. (Kids eat for $9, or free, depending on their ages and what day it is.) This is a #F mind-boggling groaning board with 50-plus items, including various pastas, roast beef, fried chicken, about a dozen each of salads and desserts, and iced tea served in a big Mason jar. And, of course, seafood! We didn't spot any lobster, but just about everything else was here, from catfish to mahi-mahi. And all the spiced hard crabs you can crack.

Now, we've all had some pretty stinky "smorgasbords" in our lives, and a few of us may still associate feed-yourself steam-table fare with elementary school and cafeteria ladies with hairnets. And, admittedly, we sampled a few bummers: clam chowder that tasted as if it had been flavored with Listerine, acidic chocolate pudding, sodium-intensive Alaskan crab legs, fried clam strips that seemed to lack clams.

But most things we tasted were more than all right -- some a lot more. While we have normal stomachs and couldn't try everything, a few highlights follow: The steamed shrimp were firm and spicy. The flavor of the oysters burst through their deep-fried coating. The seafood Newburg was rich and winy. The crab cakes were gratifyingly filler-free. Corn on the cob was crunchy and sweet. Sensational Swedish meatballs were the hit of the dinner.

But pleeeese, former Peter Pan, couldn't you bring back the corn fritters?

The Cracked Claw

Where: 3363 Urbana Pike, Urbana.

Hours: Open 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays to Thursdays, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays.

Credit Cards: AE, MC, V.

Features: Seafood, American food.

Non-smoking section? Yes.

Call: (301) 831-1200.

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