YOU NEVER FORGET your first crab fluff. Mine came, like a balloon in the Macy's parade, out of the kitchen at Bud's Crab House in Highlandtown in 1976. (I guess this is the silver anniversary of my first crab fluff.) It looked like a swollen, brown softball with claws and legs.
You could start a pretty good argument over how to make a crab fluff, but, from what I remember, Bud's short-order cook stuffed a soft-shell crab with crabmeat, dipped the whole thing in some kind of thick batter and launched the concoction into a deep fryer. That's where it became "fluffy," and thus its deceiving name. (There was nothing light or fluffy about any crab fluff I ever saw, friends.)
It was an interesting thing to look at - but, given the choices on the menu, who would want to eat it? You had to hack through the creation like a Pennsylvania anthracite miner, only to find the wonderful freshness of the crab smothered by the taste of one of those fried, corn-mealish dough sticks you get at summer carnivals in Arbutus or Glen Burnie. Why eat a greasy crab fluff when you can pick happily through steamers, or have a cup of crab soup, or dispatch a broiled crab cake with a fresh tomato on the side?
I guess I'm a purist.
But I understand and appreciate Le Fluff as a culinary oddity, something that supposedly originated on the Eastern Shore, got to Baltimore and stayed, becoming part of our cultural smorgasbord, that which makes life here in the Patapsco Drainage Basin different from life in all the other drainage basins.
While crab fluffs can still be found in these parts - L.P. Steamers in Locust Point, the Judge's Bench in Ellicott City, Schultz's in Essex, Tangier in Eldersburg, Bahama Mamas in Dundalk are among restaurants offering them - there seem to be fewer places that fluff. (Cardiologists probably think that's a good thing.)
The subject came up the other day when a friend expressed disappointment that one of her favorite crab joints, Jim's Hideaway, in Odenton, had stopped making crab fluffs. This is a woman who appears to have about 1 percent body fat; I believe she regards crab fluff as a pig-out food, something one consumes, say, once per presidential term. The fluff at Jim's Hideaway was to have been her first since George W. Bush took office. So she is still in the hunt for one.
As I said, I'm not a crab-fluff kinda guy. (In fact, my Chesapeake crabmeat boycott remains in effect until the scientists - and not the watermen - tell us the crustacean population has rebounded.) But the crab fluff is an institution, like the Bengies Drive-In, the Woman's Industrial Exchange, the Baltimore Streetcar Museum, Blob's Park and your local hardware store: If people don't partake of or patronize them, they won't last. (My friend last had a crab fluff at Jim's Hideaway 12 years ago!)
Maybe people need to know where they can get them and the various ways they are prepared.
There must be such a thing as a crab fluff connoisseur out there. If that's you - if you've been to enough local restaurants and crab houses to discern a good fluff from a bad one - drop us a line. We'll form a committee and launch a study.
A splash hit
Two fins up to all artists who took part in the city's Fish Out of Water project; your work is remarkable. Our three-hour tour of the downtown installations was great fun, and the judges in our party, reluctant to pick a favorite, decided to send special bouquets to the artists responsible for Armor Fish, near the Walters Art Gallery; Orange Ruffian, St. Paul near Monument; and Monk Fish and School of Fish, near the National Aquarium. This is one of the coolest projects we've ever seen in this town.
Frolics in New York
The IronKrawczyck Organizing Committee, a group of giddy families from Northeast Baltimore who plan to stage a series of silly athletic competitions during their vacation together next month in upstate New York, has offered exclusive broadcast rights to ESPN for $78.21 plus ESPN polo shirts for each of the participants, this columnist has learned.
Mike Bryant, one of the Iron- Krawczyck organizers, made the offer in a letter to ESPN because the sports network will be broadcasting the Isuzu Iron Man Competition at Lake Placid around the time he and 15 other merry Baltimorons bring their "grueling" five-day event to the shores of nearby Mirror Lake.
The second annual IronKraw- czyck, named for event founders Ken and Martha Krawczyck, will again feature bowling at BowlWinkles in Lake Placid, stone skipping on Wilmington Lake, rock-paper-scissors and seven other contests of skill. "The most exciting venue this year will feature our new and soon-to-become-signature event, Mountain Top Twister," says Bryant. "Participants will climb to the top of New York's highest peak, Mount Marcy, and play the board game Twister at the summit."
Bryant hasn't heard back from ESPN, but it's still early.
And here at home
And ESPN really ought to set up the cameras at the Patterson Park pool for Fluid Movement's French-inspired, circus-themed, co-ed synchronized swimming extravaganza. Friends, you've got to see it to believe it. "You will feel every emotion known to the human race," says this year's announcement, "but most of all, you will feel the love." For information, call 410-342-0600, or click on www.fluidmovement.org.
Hold that thought
Memo to Philip Cuomo, who runs the antique store on Howard Street that I called the other day: Hold that piece for me, will ya? I'll be down after the tunnel fire's out.
TJIDAN@aol.com is the e-mail address for Dan Rodricks. He can also be reached at 410-332-6166, or by letter at The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278.