Jumbo crabs offer challenge to crowd at Annapolis feast

More than 2,500 attend Rotary Club event called city's `summer picnic'

August 07, 1999|By Neal Thompson | Neal Thompson,SUN STAFF

After 53 years, you'd think the Annapolis Rotary Club Crab Feast would be hard-pressed to improve on its formula of beer, steamed corn and all the spice-coated crabs you can dissect and devour.

But this year, 2,500-plus people gathered at sunset in the shadows of the concrete bleachers at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium experienced a twist in crab feasting -- gut-bustingly fat crabs.

In years past, organizers ordered bushels of the cheaper, medium-size crabs. There were no complaints. All had fun. But for the 54th annual feast, the huge steamers cooked up 360 bushels of No 1. Jimmies, the sumo wrestlers of the crustacean world. It's like the difference between eating a Richard Simmons crab and a Mark McGwire crab.

OK, so Maryland's way-below-average crab harvest meant half the crabs had to be trucked up from North Carolina. OK, so the same thing happened last month at the 23rd J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clambake in Crisfield. But when you get right down to it, people like Joe Johnson are less concerned with a crab's home state than with the amount of meat under its shell.

Johnson has attended the past 40 crab feasts. Usually, he can handle a dozen or more crabs. This year, his belt felt tight after half that many. "I can't eat as much as I used to," Johnson said.

Mike Storm of Shoreline Seafood in Gambrills, with a 15-man crew, also cooked 250 gallons of crab soup and steamed 3,500 ears of corn. "This is the biggest thing we've ever done," he said.

Annapolis Mayor Dean L. Johnson, relegated to garbage duty last year, was promoted this year to crab server. Wearing thick black gloves, he grabbed from a 2-foot-high pile and stacked crabs onto diners' trays.

"It's like the old ice cream socials on the courthouse square -- but with crabs," he said.

The event began as a picnic in 1946 at Bay Ridge Beach. Old-timers recall that being the year police were called out to break up a game of craps. Since then, the feast has grown into an enormous collection of locals, tourists and politicians. Organizers call it the largest crab feast in the world.

A now-famous overhead photograph appeared in National Geographic a few years ago. The feast has been featured in Southern Living and Travel Weekly magazines and, for five years running, on the "Today" show. Rotary Club President Dick Rooney and five other club members again brought Willard Scott a bushel of crabs last week.

"This is our summer picnic here in Annapolis," Rooney said. "Wall to wall crabs and people."

Pub Date: 8/07/99

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