The dining room is packed and virtually every table is covered with brown paper and Callinectes sapidus in various stages of disassembly. These are old-hand locals, capable of locating the choice crab nuggets while devoting only half their attention to the hard-shelled creatures, the other half devoted to watching their beloved Orioles clobber the Red Sox on one of the TVs perched on the walls around the dining room. We love tearing apart steaming hot Old Bay-plastered crabs as much as the next guy but, today, we’re feeling lazy, and tired from the long drive. So crab cakes it is, without shame.
A few words about crab cakes. There are foods that we used to appreciate wherever we found them, and we now enjoy only in a very specific region of the country. What happened? We tried them at their best. Smoked brisket is one example. Having sampled the transcendentally appealing versions that emerge from the pits of Texas Hill Country, smoked brisket everywhere else has become one disappointment after another.
Same thing goes for crab cakes. Away from the Chesapeake, crab cakes never taste right. Some are like vaguely sea-flavored Thanksgiving stuffing. Others neutralize the crab flavor and ruin the texture with incompatible seasonings and gobs of mayo and wet vegetables. The cooks around Chesapeake Bay tend to instinctively understand that crab cakes are about crab, and whatever you use to turn loose crab meat into a cohesive pile should accentuate the crab flavor, not shout it down.
This is true even though, oddly, most Chesapeake-region crab cakes are not made with crab that once swam in the Chesapeake. Yes, the crab in your Maryland and Virginia crab cakes is more likely to have spent its life in the Gulf of Mexico or Asian waters. While that fact may be disappointing, it also means that, in theory, anyone, anywhere, should be able to make crab cakes the equal of those from the Chesapeake. But they don’t.
Which brings us to Seaside. We’ve sampled crab cakes from many of the region’s best-loved crab specialists, from Faidley’s to G&M, and they’ve all been good, and some have been much better than good. But none have been superior to those from Seaside. We’re talking broiled cakes, mind you, not fried: broiling potentiates the crab flavor as some of the surface meat toasts, while hot oil does nothing for the delicate flesh, especially if it means an added coat of batter or breading.
Seaside cakes have the requisite big lumps of crab but what makes these cakes well-nigh perfect is how crabby they taste. From the broiling to the binder to the seasoning to, presumably, the crabmeat they use, everything they’ve done to the patty helps shine the spotlight on the crab flavor. These aren’t the kind of cakes designed to impress with their huge girth and enormous but bland crab lumps. No, Seaside’s cakes make their biggest impression in the mouth.
Seaside is locally popular – you may have to wait for a table. Seating is available in the dining room proper, a bar area to the right, and a few picnic tables in a screened-in front porch. The sides and appetizers we tried ranged from the forgettable (fries) to the more-than-pleasant (Maryland crab soup) to the quite good (fresh and crisp house-made slaw). There’s a large menu of all sorts of seafood, and even plenty of non-sea food, but it’s for the singular broiled crab cakes and neighborhood crab joint vibe that we give our highest rating to Seaside.224 Crain Highway North Glen Burnie MD 21061 410-760-2200 Seaside Restaurant & Crab House’s Website Seaside Restaurant & Crab House on Facebook