We had some business in Baltimore this weekend, which is a schlep, so we were determined to culinarily maximize our trip. The obvious food item to seek out in eastern Maryland is crab, and boy, did we ever find it. Immediately upon arrival in the city, we were directed toward Sterling’s Crab and Oyster House, which has been doling out fried seafood since 1949. “Don’t check into your hotel, don’t go to the Inner Harbor, don’t even go to the bathroom before you hit Sterling’s,” we were told. We drove through the run-down Remington neighborhood (think Edgewater, a few years back) and found a parking spot right outside the shop. With the dimensions of a school bus and similarly sophisticated decor, Sterling’s charms lie largely in its seafood sandwiches (also in the collection of small liquor bottles and 40s for sale behind the register. Classy!)
We didn’t get their famous seafood sub, with shrimp, fish, scallops and crab cakes, because…we’re stupid and we didn’t notice it on the menu until it was too late. Instead, we selected a jumbo crab cake sandwich on a Kaiser roll for $10.95 (for a hole in the wall, it certainly wasn’t cheap, but that’s just as well when it comes to seafood). When we ordered, the counterwoman asked, “what do you want on it?” And we were flummoxed. We didn’t have the context for an answer - vegetables? Condiments? Yes, it turned out, so we decided on a mixture of mustard and mayo. And we got some cole slaw, collard greens, and shrimp macaroni (!) on the side for good measure.
When the sandwich showed up 10 minutes later, we were bubbling with excitement - payoff time! We spied a playground down the block and planted ourself on the jungle gym. Under an increasingly menacing gray sky, we unwrapped the suspiciously heavy sandwich. Through the oil stains, we could see we were dealing with a monster: the crab cake was at least 6” in diameter, and no less than an inch thick. Any lingering fears of quantity over quality were obliterated by the first bite, which revealed huge, incredibly fresh chunks of crab meat interspersed with fried bits of breading and bay spices. It was, by far, the thickest, juiciest crab cake we’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing (and we were totally right about the dijonnaise, too).
The news kept getting better as we dug into our sides: the cole slaw was refreshingly light and perfectly textured, the collards were so fresh that they didn’t need vinegar, and the shrimp macaroni was of awesome-suburban-mother quality, and involved parsley. Eating this glorious paean to crab while watching the children playing with their toy guns, we couldn’t imagine a better introduction to Baltimore.
Crab cakes in Chicago cannot compare, which is little more than the fault of geography. Nevertheless, those in the mood can find decent examples at places like Catch Thirty Five, Hugo’s Frog Bar, Shaw’s Crab House, and Blue Water Grill, all of which are large and busy enough to import fresh crabs. But nothing beats eating them where they’re caught.
Sterling’s Crab and Oyster House [Citypaper]
[Photo: Citipaper. We were remiss in not taking a picture]