Carry-on crustaceans Crabs: For departing travelers who have fallen in love with Chesapeake cuisine, a shop at BWI sells crab meat, crab cakes and stuffed crabs, packaged to stay fresh all the way home.

June 07, 1996|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,SUN STAFF

Sure, they can always grab a Maryland mug or an Orioles T-shirt or a few postcards before boarding the plane.

But BWI airport travelers who really want to take home a taste of Maryland now stock up on its most famous delicacy: succulent bits of blue crab meat, hon.

For the first time, visitors to Baltimore-Washington International can purchase pasteurized crab meat, frozen crab cakes and stuffed crabs at Just Plane Crabs, a little shop next to the airport's observation deck.

And the pride of the Chesapeake -- you won't find any Virginia or Texas variety here -- is getting around like never before, taking flight in insulated, carry-on packets guaranteed to keep the crab meat fresh 24 hours.

Already, brisk business has prompted the store to plan a new, separate shop nearby, Chesapeake Catch and Carry, with a broader array of fresh bay seafood and regional foods to go.

Just Plane Crabs owner Melissa M. Fulton declined to provide totals, but said sales at the 10-month-old store doubled this spring with the addition of crab.

The store, in the airport's Gallery Market Walk between Piers B and C, had sold just about everything crab -- crab mallets, crab seasoning, crab T-shirts, crab bibs, crab cookbooks, furry crabs and plastic crabs and chocolate crabs -- everything except the real thing.

Which begged the question Fulton and airport employees say they heard dozens of times a day:

"People would come in the store and the airport information booth and say, 'Where can I get Maryland crab meat? Where can I get those Maryland crab cakes I keep hearing about?' " Fulton said.

"The Maryland crab cakes are famous all over the world. I said to myself, 'I've got to do something about this.' It was crazy, I mean, that it in this environment, this international airport, we don't have fresh crab meat and crab cakes people could take home."

Fulton said as much to the Maryland Aviation Administration, which owns the airport; Host Marriott, which manages retail merchandising there; and the state Department of Agriculture's Seafood Marketing program.

All agreed, and gave the store the go-ahead to create Maryland's answer to Boston's Logan International Airport, where Maine lobsters have been big sellers for years.

Beyond the additional revenue for the industry, selling crab meat at an airport with more than 13 million passengers a year naturally represents a smart marketing ploy.

Bill Sieling, head of the Seafood Marketing Program, said requests and phone orders for Maryland seafood come from throughout the world. Using pasteurized crab meat and frozen crab cakes, he said, enables processors to provide Maryland crab meat year-round.

Sieling predicted its popularity will grow markedly with airport sales and the word-of-mouth advertising, and that sales of crab meat at BWI would soon outpace those of lobsters up north.

"Lobster doesn't have the universal appeal of crabs," he said, betraying more than a hint of hometown boosterism. "Lobster has always been perceived as a rich man's food. Everybody likes crabs, but lobster's an acquired taste."

Just Plane Crabs joined an array of new, upscale specialty shops and kiosks that opened at BWI, reflecting a nationwide trend to accommodate harried travelers.

When she decided to add crab meat, Fulton, who also owns three Celebrate Maryland souvenir stores, including one at BWI, solicited vendors from across the state and settled on two from Eastern Shore crab country.

Kool Ice & Seafood, a seafood packer in Cambridge, provides the pasteurized fresh crab meat, which lasts up to six months in the refrigerator. The John T. Handy Co., a seafood-processing company in Crisfield, provides the crab cakes, which are frozen instantly to preserve their taste.

Jumbo lump sells for $23.95 a pound; back fin, $20.95; flaked "special," $17.95. Claw meat goes for $14.95 for 12 ounces, while crab cakes cost $22.95 for a box of six, and stuffed crabs $34.95 for a box of 12.

Purchases come with booklets that include instructions on handling and storage of crab meat and recipes aplenty -- for crab cakes, crab soup, imperial crab, crab-stuffed mushrooms, crab dip, crab salad.

All of which sounded pretty appetizing to Glenn Bailey, a building contractor from West Jordan, Utah, whose wife, Tonya, and five children had sampled crab dishes at the Inner Harbor and Ocean City before heading home this week.

"We had to buy more before we go," he said. "We got a good taste of it. You can't leave Maryland without crab cakes."

Pub Date: 6/06/96

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