I picked up the monster by the tip of one claw and let it dangle in front of me in all its massive glory. My quest for the heaviest crab of the season was finally over.
This year's journey came to an end at Seaside in Glen Burnie, a crab house that inspires pilgrimages from all around the Beltway. Here, crabs arrive at the table so hot it takes tough hands, or an artfully wielded knife, to get off the outer shell.
Owner Jerry Wood opened Seaside six years ago, but he's been in the crab business for more than two decades. With his own crab operation in Louisiana and good contacts in Maryland, Wood gets a superb selection of crabs year-round for his restaurant and two carryouts.
The heaviest crabs are kept at Seaside, like the rare super-jumbos that sell fast, even at $55 a dozen.
The large ones we tried at $40 a dozen would qualify as jumbos at other restaurants. It's hard to imagine crabs any larger or heavier than these sweet babies, covered in a crushed red pepper-and-salt seasoning mix that is Wood's own recipe.
With such stellar crabs, Seaside has moved to the top of my list of crab houses. The decor is appropriately casual, with paper bags on the floor for shells, a fishing net suspended from the ceiling and a blue-green sea mural splashed across one wall. The staff is friendly and efficient, even when the restaurant is at its busiest. And Seaside makes an excellent cream of crab soup, one that's satiny and thick, with big nuggets of crab and a hint of sherry.
The chunky Maryland crab soup, loaded with vegetables, isn't bad either. Good soup is essential at a crab house. That and cold beer.
Nothing else we tried, except homemade new potato salad, was on quite the same high level. The thick dressing on the shrimp salad was pleasantly spicy-hot, but a little too salty.
The broiled shrimp and scallops on the seafood combination platter were cooked just right, but the crab cake was made with stringy, over-seasoned crab meat, and the orange roughy fillet was virtually tasteless.
Also on the platter, two clams casino were excellent, baked with crisp squares of smoky bacon. They're good enough to order on their own as an appetizer. Or, if you're tired of crab dip, you might want to try crab toast, with lumps of crab covered in melted Jack and Cheddar cheese on garlic bread.
Many people, myself included, think that chocolate is the best way to end a crab feast. Seaside wisely serves a cake that is as sweet and dense as fudge. A few spoonfuls will satisfy those cravings for something sweet after a salty meal.
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224 N. Crain Highway, Glen Burnie
Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner
Credit cards: All major cards
Prices: Appetizers, $3.25-$9.95; entrees, $5.25-$22.95
Atmosphere: ** 1/2
Ratings system: Outstanding: ****; good ***; fair or uneven **; poor *