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So many crab cakes! So little time

October 26, 2018

Every morning, I pour myself a cup of coffee with a bit of mocha and a pinch of finely ground ancho peppers (thank you, Maria, former owner of Café a Go-Go). Then I peer into the gaping maw of the unknown. In other words, I read my email.

My Cape Gazette, RehobothFoodie.com and the Rehoboth In My Pocket email boxes get around 150 emails every day. People love to share their thoughts, and I end up with a true cross-section of local trends, i.e., 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 chili. They 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 Dewey Beach Bar & Grill 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 will set you back about $27, and they’re 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.

Big Fish Grill bosses Norman and Eric Sugrue protect their mom’s secret recipe for the crab cakes served at the various incarnations of that longtime fish house. Geneva Sugrue is also the namesake for their often-imitated-but-never-quite-duplicated ‘Neva’s potatoes. By the way, stand by for a big announcement in the next few months about both those tasty items!

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 Gunning’s Seafood (sadly no more) 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.

Chef Maurice Catlett adds his Louisiana touch to the crab cakes at Matt’s Fish Camp in Lewes. Chef Raul Rodriguez keeps up the tradition around the corner at Fish On. At the risk of naming too many SoDel Concepts restaurants, Chef Jason Dietterick’s crabby mix at Bluecoast Rehoboth is also quite good. Just up the road, Chef Sean Corea stands firmly behind his Delmarvalous crab cakes at Fork & Flask. Last week at their Saturday Jazz Brunch I had the pleasure of tucking into his crabcake eggs Benedict. For a rare moment I was speechless. Really.

Sometimes good crab cakes turn up in the strangest places. Like a steakhouse, for example. The massive orbs at 1776 Steakhouse march proudly out of the kitchen decorated with cranberry relish. Another unassuming spot with exceptional ‘cakes (so unassuming, in fact that it took me several years to write about the place) is Roland Buckingham’s Catchers restaurant tucked between El Jefe Gordo and Lupo Italian Kitchen on The Avenue. Do not leave Catchers without trying the scallops wrapped in crispy bacon. Scallops were put on this earth to be wrapped in bacon.

By the way, you can enjoy an aerial view of this weekend’s Sea Witch Parade at Cooter Brown’s outdoor patio overlooking First & The Avenue. Tickets to the event include a brunch buffet. Hope that Dale and John’s secret recipe crabcakes will be available - they arrive at the table flanked by green apple celery slaw and fried green tomatoes.  Of course, no discussion of seafood is complete without mentioning Henlopen City Oyster House. They pan-sear their cakes to a slightly buttery crunch. This is not a bad thing.

I know there are more crab cakes out there, but Cape Gazette grants me only so much real estate, and these are the ones I hear about the most.  I’ll rely on you to check them - and others - out and tell me what you think. I’ll be waiting with my spicy coffee.

  • 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 byesbek@capegazette.com.