What's new under the bun? Crab cakes return to McDonald's

HAPPY EATER

June 23, 1993|By ROB KASPER

Chester -- It looked more like a crab pancake than a Maryland crab cake. It was flat and somewhat shy of crab flavor. But when lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise were added to the "new" McDonald's crab cake, it perked up.

As a crab cake I would give it a C-minus. As a "trapped parent" dish it got a C-plus. It was above average fare for a parent stuck at a fast food restaurant with the kids.

That was my take on the "new," or at least newly reintroduced McDonald's crab cake being sold this summer at 23 McDonald's restaurants on the Eastern Shore.

Called a Maryland-style crab cake, it is made with a blend of meat from foreign and Chesapeake Bay crabs.

According to McDonald's spokesman Chuck Tildon, 83 percent of crab meat that goes in the crab cakes comes from India, and 17 percent comes from "domestic" sources, including the Chesapeake Bay.

McDonald's says this year's blend of crab meat represents an improvement over last year's crab cake. Last year's crab cake was made entirely from American blue crabs but the grade of meat used was the lowly "special," he said.

This year, along with the foreign crab meat, the crab cake contains some lump crab meat, according to Tildon. While the crab cakes were sold last year at some 90 McDonald's throughout Maryland, this year only the McDonald's on the Eastern Shore have crab cakes on the menu.

Selling crab cakes made from imported crab meat may be regarded by some Marylanders as sacrilege and by others as an inevitable part of living in a global economy.

I regarded it as an excuse to feed the kids fast food. So the other night I loaded the two kids, 12 and 8, in the car and drove over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to the McDonald's in Chester.

Originally the plan was that each of us would try out a crab cake. But when I saw the price, $3.46, tax included, for a sandwich and five bucks for a "meal" of crab cake, beverage and french fries. I changed plans.

Instead of allowing the kids to experiment with a sandwich they might not finish eating, I instructed them to order their old standbys, fried chicken nuggets dipped in gelatinous sauces. I bought the crab cake sandwich for myself and offered the kids sample bites.

Right away I noticed that this year's version of the McDonald's crab cake was flatter than last year's.

The crab portion looked like a thin, hamburger patty. Last year's version, as I recall, was more lumplike. The bun, along with the tomato and lettuce, gave the sandwich some heft and much needed moisture. On the plus side, this baked crab cake had a nice aroma, was artfully seasoned, and the skin was not tough. There were no off flavors. Nothing tasted "foreign." I ate pieces of naked crab cake and thought it was dry. When the mayo, lettuce and tomato were added, the flavor improved.

As is true with most fast food dishes, my kids liked the McDonald's crab cake more than I did.

The 12-year-old thought that while "normal crab tastes a lot better," this crab cake was "not bad." And he added later, that eating one " makes you thirsty."

The 8-year-old said it was "OK." But after he polished off his chicken nuggets, he ordered cheeseburger as a chaser, not more crab cake.

I looked around the restaurant hoping to find other crab cake eaters and compare notes. I didn't see any. After waiting 40 minutes and still finding no fellow crab cake eaters, I left and bought another crab cake sandwich to go.

On the drive home I thought about the crab cake. It was not terrific. But it wasn't offensive tasting, either. I could imagine folks who lived in Indianapolis or other cities deprived of fresh blue crab greeting such a crab cake as a seafood treat.

But in Maryland, the blue crab's backyard, a crab cake made from imported meat would, I figured, be a hard sell.

In Maryland, I told myself, people regard a crab cake as lumps of meat held together with little more than willpower.

In Maryland, I reasoned, people have high standards and old family recipes for crab cakes. No matter how much McDonald's tinkered with it, natives would not take to a fast food crab cake.

But then again, maybe they would. I put the extra crab cake sandwich in the back seat. And on the drive home, the 12-year-old, a Maryland native, attacked it and ate all but one bite.

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