The Crab Cake Wars: Pick a winner

June 14, 2018

Every morning, I pour myself a cup of coffee (with a pinch of mocha and a dusting of ground ancho peppers) and stare into the gaping maw of the unknown. In other words, I read my email. and the Rehoboth In My Pocket app get over 100 emails every day. People love to share their thoughts, and I end up with a true cross-section of local trends and what's "in" or what's not quite so "in." And crab cakes are always "in."

Many of us transplants grew up around Baltimore. Charm City is militant about crabs, and nowhere is that more apparent than in my email box. So who's the best? Not so fast! Crab cakes are like pizza, barbecue and yo' mamma's lasagne: Styles and tastes vary geographically, and everybody swears by their favorite. Lump, backfin, a shredded combo of both (horrors!), spicy, not so spicy, fried, broiled, with filler, no filler, round, flat – each is somebody's favorite. But, some local trends have emerged.

Top spots include, in no particular order (I DO have to live here, y'know), the broiled orbs at Woody's East Coast Bar & Grill in Dewey Beach, where Jimmy O'Conor mixes up small batches of his secret recipe. A sleeper just north of the Nassau Bridge is The Surfing Crab. These jumbo lump gems are worth every penny. And no wonder. This crab that surfs is related to Maryland's Bethesda Crab House who's been dishin' up the blue crustaceans for over 50 years.

Cheryl Tilton touts her cakes as the best at Gilligan's Waterfront Restaurant in Lewes. They are almost pure meat; barely held together with anything. Just a block south is Jerry's Seafood (also originally from Maryland) with their Crab Bomb. Other than Baltimore's long-gone Gunning's Seafood (get 'em fried) and the legendary Faidley's in Lexington Market (they've been doing it for 128 years), Jerry's is one of the biggest I've seen. Local boys Eric and Norman Sugrue's crab cakes at Big Fish Grill pay homage to an old family recipe. Ditto for their "Eastern Shore" crab cakes at Salt Air on Wilmington Ave. Did someone say "Delmarvalous?" Check out Chef Sean Corea's delicately assembled patties at Fork + Flask at Nage.

Both Matt’s Fish Camp and Fish On in Lewes offer Matt Haley’s original-recipe cakes. They’re offered sandwich style at The Fish Camp, of course. In true MH style they are straightforward and lightly spiced with minimum filler.

Some new kids in town who stand to be contenders in the crab cake wars include Chip Miller’s orbs at Blackwall Hitch and Ross Thompson’s creations at G Rehoboth (hint: he holds them together with nothing more than a dollop of shrimp mousse!). No discussion of seafood is complete without mentioning Henlopen City Oyster House. They pan-sear their “Smith Island” cakes to a slightly buttery crunch. This is not a bad thing.

I’ve always been fascinated by owner Roland Buckingham’s penchant for staying “under the radar” at his eclectic, very beachy but consistently good Catchers next to Hotel Rehoboth.

In typical RB style, he offers his creations as an appetizer only. I can hear him saying it now: “…as a prelude to my perfect entrees!” If you haven’t ventured in there, you should. Another “who wooda thought…” place that has good crab cakes is Bryan Derrickson’s Conch Island at 2nd & The Avenue. His varied menu is often overshadowed by the high-energy music in the summer, but it’s well worth checking out.

I know there are more crab cakes out there, but Beach Paper grants me only so much real estate. But my email box doesn’t lie. So check these out and tell me what you think. I’ll be waiting with my spicy coffee.

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