Restaurateurs’ dream comes true on Coastal Highway

Crunchy fried clams pair well with Salt Air’s crabby deviled eggs. PHOTOS BY BOB YESBEK
May 27, 2014

Remember the restaurant that used to be in the building that Big Fish Grill now occupies? It was called The Crab House. When the Sugrue family took over that property to open the first of what is now six big restaurants plus a market and a wholesale seafood division, the idea of a down-home-style crab joint with brown paper, hammers and barrels of Old Bay never strayed far from their minds.

In the meantime, The Crab Barn, Wahoo, Timothy’s and most recently Beachcomber were all trying to survive in that building across from Tanger Seaside Outlets. Though it seems like the perfect spot for a casual eatery, each one eventually gave up the ghost for one reason or another - some more quickly than others. But that was then, and this is now.

Big Fish Restaurant Group brings a lot more to The Crab House than just a couple of beer taps, ESPN and happy hour wings. They bring years of experience in kitchen layout and management, buying, hiring and training. While some restaurants are blaming the economy for their missteps, Norm and Eric’s places are crowded just about every night. This point is easily proven. Just try to get a seat at Salt Air or Big Fish Grill on a Saturday night, either in- or off-season.

So it was a parade of notables who accepted the Sugrues' generous invitation to last week’s friends and family preopening shakedown. These events not only treat friends and family to a fun evening, but they also give the kitchen a workout, smooth out service kinks, expose weak points and adjust systems critical to smooth operation. After all, the next day, everyone who comes through the front door will be forming their first (and lasting) impressions. And at The Crab House, that impression is of sunlight streaming into newly installed windows and reflecting off white walls covered by a minimum of decorations. And most of those decorations consist of Kevin Fleming’s beautiful photographs of Delaware seagoing life.

Norm Sugrue shoveled fresh popcorn out of the theater-style machine as servers scurried in and out of the kitchen, filling food orders selected from a pot-luck bucket at the front door. Each partygoer picked out a couple of tickets for certain dishes. It was lots of fun, with everyone figuring out what they got and who they could trade it with. Newly appointed GM Andrea Herman had her hands full welcoming such notables as Delaware Majority Leader and Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf and his wife Carol, Bin 66 wine maven Tom Poor, Sign-A-Rama divas Katie Handy and Gwen Osbourne, Bad Hair Day? proprietor Drexel Davison, and many more recognizable faces.

The menu is pure crab joint and offers up such beachy staples as steamed PEIs and shrimp, hushpuppies, fried oysters, snow crab legs, Norm’s famous crab cakes and a daily fresh fish board. Landlubbers will appreciate the fried chicken, baby back ribs and the double-patty cheeseburger (if you’ve had the Big Fish Grill or Summer House burger, you know this will be delicious). They even made a polite nod to Salt Air with crabby deviled eggs.

Special combinations include a Delaware Clam Bake (crabs, clams, shrimp, potatoes and corn) and an AYCE feast of ribs, chicken, shrimp or medium crabs with Boardwalk fries (another Salt Air favorite), hushpuppies and slaw. Of course there will be daily specials depending on what’s growing, swimming or flying out there. The Crab House is now open seven days for dinner.

  • So many restaurants, so little time! Food writer Bob Yesbek gives readers a sneak peek behind the scenes, exposing the inner workings of the local culinary industry, from the farm to the table and everything in between. He can be reached at

    Masthead photo by Grant Gursky. Used with permission from Coastal Style Magazine.

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