Craving A Crab Cake? Tune In To Mpt's Culinary Road Show

April 23, 2009|By KEVIN COWHERD | KEVIN COWHERD,kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

All the recession talk on TV got you down?

Need a break from all the gloom-and-doom on the cable channels and their shouting, arm-waving, spittle-flicking financial gurus?

Sure you do.

So tune in at 9 tonight to MPT's Eatin' Crabcakes: The Best I Ever Had, which chronicles a rollicking road trip in search of "Crabcake Heaven." It's part of the station's Chesapeake Bay Week programming.

OK, maybe you can't even afford a crab cake these days.

But you can live vicariously through host and "crab cake connoisseur" Doug Roberts, who sampled crab cakes from downtown Baltimore to the back roads of the Eastern Shore, not to mention a church in Annapolis and a restaurant in Washington.

(I know, I know ... what does anybody in D.C. know about crab cakes, right? Look, it's not my program. So don't get testy with me. Take it up with MPT-Channels 22/67.)

All in all, Roberts tore into some 15 different crab cakes in places high-end and down-home, including the humble Sip & Bite in Canton, where you can get great breakfasts and commune with late-night drunks, but which might be the last place on earth where you'd think to order a crab cake.

"The worst crab cake I had was a B-plus," Roberts, the longtime Baltimore TV and radio personality, told me. "And I'm tough on it."

"They were fine to excellent to sublime," added producer John Paulson. "There was not a bad crab cake to be found."

In the preview I watched, Roberts proves to be an engaging and enthusiastic host, even when he's at Faidley's Seafood in Baltimore's Lexington Market trying to wheedle a crab cake recipe from owner Nancy Faidley Devine.

Naturally, it's a no-go. Devine smiles, but clams up like she's with a CIA water-boarding team. Crab cake people don't give out that kind of information.

On the other hand, one restaurant owner, Bud Gardner of L.P. Steamers in Locust Point, copped to every ingredient in his crab cake recipe: eggs, mayo, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, you name it.

He even told Roberts that he grinds his bread in a blender to make it really fine, which helps hold the crab cake together.

But Gardner was an anomaly. Everyone else fended off Roberts' recipe inquiries with various equivalents of the old line: If we told you, we'd have to kill you.

My favorite scene takes place at the Sip & Bite, where Roberts orders a broiled crab cake and gets a polite smackdown from Sophia Vasiliades, wife of owner Tony Vasiliades.

"Broiled?" she says. "We don't broil here. Only grill."

Roberts gives her a look that suggests she's peddling grilled wolverine.

"OK, I'll try it," he says gamely.

"I expected to detest it," he told me. "Just didn't think it would work. And I loved it."

The bean counters at MPT probably loved the price, too: $8.95 for a crab cake sandwich, $14.95 for a crab cake platter with two sides.

No wonder Sophia Vasiliades says: "You get champagne on a beer budget - that's what you get with our crab cakes."

I don't know what crab cakes go for at G&M Restaurant in Linthicum. And I'm not sure I want to know, given the softball-sized ones in Eatin' Crabcakes. OK, we're not talking about gold bullion here. But 8 ounces of premium jumbo lump crab meat ain't cheap.

But apparently, these crab cakes are tasty as all get-out, because Roberts talks to a group of soldiers just back from duty in Afghanistan who rave about them.

The soldiers say they literally got off a plane and made a beeline to G&M.

One tells Roberts the crab cakes are so tasty he'd do an eight-month tour of duty, instead of the four he just completed, if he could come back and eat more crab cakes.

I don't know if the poor guy had had a few beers or a few shots or what. But that struck me as a pretty outrageous statement.

Look, I like crab cakes, too, but probably not enough to go back to some godforsaken, war-torn country to get shot at.

On the other hand, maybe I should check out the G&M crab cakes for myself before offering an opinion on this subject.

After all, that's what company expense accounts are for.

Well, they used to be, anyway.

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