Crab cake reigns supreme at Dundalk's Bahama Mamas

July 11, 1996|By Laura Rottenberg | Laura Rottenberg,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Occasionally, restaurant reviewers have moments of startling serendipity. When you least expect it -- wham -- you may stumble across the perfect rendition of Maryland's crowning culinary achievement: the crab cake. Bahama Mamas is a casual place with cheap pitchers of Bud and Bud Light and live music on the weekend. It is also the purveyor of just about the best crab cake around.

Bahama Mamas holds other surprises as well. The squat, unassuming building houses a dining room of the same padded vinyl-and-metal chairs you find at bingo parlors and bowling alleys. Many of the no-frills tables are covered with sheets of brown paper in anticipation of crab-eating hordes. Even the big plate-glass windows don't prepare you for what is beyond them: The restaurant offers a deck with idyllic waterside dining in Dundalk. On a nice day, the view from the tables out back takes in a lovely scene of Bear Creek, complete with bustling boat traffic.

The restaurant's name would suggest a tropical theme. Yes, Bahama Mamas gestures at an island motif, with deeply tanned waitresses, an endless loop of Bob Marley's "Legend," drinks served in coconut halves and a disgruntled-looking crocodile lounging in a tank. Despite appearances, though, the menu is all Maryland crab house -- lots of seafood but plenty of casual dishes for non-seafood eaters, too.

The appetizers are competently rendered, garden-variety bar snacks that keep the Fryolator hopping. One evening's beer-battered onion rings were golden, greaseless rounds encasing sweet yellow onion. Plump shrimp were wrapped with thick, crispy bacon and smothered in an excess of sweet barbecue sauce.

Standard deli sandwiches make up a good part of the menu. They are filling and unremarkable. A case in point is the house club sandwich. Piled high with thick-cut ham, turkey, bacon and American cheese, its most impressive feature is its accompanying mountain of chips.

After eating some of the menu's other crab dishes, we weren't prepared for the stellar crab cake. For folks undaunted by the word cholesterol, the crab fluff is a huge, misshapen fried ball encasing pleasant but mushy crab meat. The dozen smallish crabs we had were piping hot, but too heavily coated in a seasoning that tasted mostly of celery salt. The meat itself was fresh-tasting and not at all mealy.

The arrival of the crab cake platter raised eyebrows at our table. Two gargantuan and perfectly shaped golden orbs dwarfed the side of pickles and chips. Perfectly broiled, they featured a crisp exterior and tender, moist center. All crab meat was jumbo lump and undiluted by filler. No bits of shell marred our enjoyment of the gently seasoned, plush meat. Such a success made up for the less inspired dishes at our meal.

Our waitress was obviously no fan of simple desserts. When asked what confection might end our meal, she scrunched up her nose and replied, "Only vanilla ice cream." With that endorsement we declined, savoring instead our sweet memory of the crab cake.

Bahama Mamas

601 Wise Ave., Dundalk

(410) 477-1261

Hours: Open Sunday through Thursday, 11: 00 a.m.-10: 00 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11: 00 a.m.-midnight

Credit cards: Major credit cards

Prices: Appetizers, $1.95-$5.95; entrees $8.95-$21.95

Pub Date: 7/11/96

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