Tag Archives: crabcake

Seafood in the States

Before I moved here, when I thought of American food, I thought of burgers and pizza, and diners serving pancakes. I didn’t think of seafood. But since I’ve lived here and traveled around a bit, I’ve discovered that seafood in America can be found all over, in all sorts of places, and is not only delicious but also excellent value.

In the UK you’d probably think twice about having oysters in a pub – unless the pub was very much in the area for them and was known to be good. Probably you wouldn’t be able to find oysters on most pub menus. But here on the East Coast you’ll find them fresh by the dozen or fried in a po-boy in all sorts of pubs and bars, and it’s a safe bet to go for them. Even our local sports bar on 18th Street advertises oysters for a dollar each.

I had difficulty working out how to organize this piece, as we’ve had such good seafood on so many wonderful parts of the east coast, and each experience reminds me of another. But in the end I decided to take each type of seafood in turn.

Lobster 

lobster roll

Enjoying lobster my two favourite ways in Maine.

I mentioned the lobster shacks of Maine in a recent post. Lobster certainly is plentiful in this state! You could get it in lobster rolls of slightly sweet brioche-type bread stuffed with cold sweet meat and slathered with mayo. Or steamed and served hot with melted butter, with biscuits and corn cobs on the side. Or even as an ingredient in Mac and Cheese. This was probably my least favourite way to treat lobster – while I can’t really choose between lobster rolls and steamed. But if I thought this was just a Maine thing, I was corrected when we went to Boston and I discovered that you could get a lobster roll for a comparable price at Faneuil Hall, along with excellent clam chowder (I wrote about our trip to Boston here). I’ve also heard that the lobster is similarly great in Connecticut, though they make their lobster rolls with warm meat, tossed in melted butter.

Clams (more specifically, clam chowder)

chowder

When we were in Maine we decided to try to find the best clam chowder. We tried an award-winning one in a small cafe in Freeport (home of the outdoors store LL Bean), but in actual fact found one in a small pub in Boothbay harbour that beat it in our opinion. Both were creamy and had plenty of clam meat in them, but both also had slightly too much bacon taste for us. And we couldn’t seem to find any that used whole clams. Finally the clam chowder in a bread bowl from Fanueil Hall in Boston came into our lives and turned every other clam chowder into a distant memory. It might just have been that we were cold and needed it – but I don’t think so.

Incidentally, when we got back from Maine I found this recipe for clam chowder which I always use now. I like the fact that it doesn’t use cream (always a flavour-killer in my experience) and that it gives such clear instructions for really cleaning the clams to avoid your diners crunching on sand and silt. We had some really badly-cleaned sandy large clams in Maine (they’re known as Steamers because they’re just steamed), and that almost put me off clams for life.

Crab

So I wrote a while ago about how I am enamoured of crab, especially in crab cakes and crab dip. Here in DC we live pretty much on the Chesapeake, so crab is a local delicacy. Everywhere serves crab dip, and crab cakes are a very usual alternative to a burger in many bars in the area. Recently though, R and I discovered the fun that is beating up whole crabs to eat their legs like lolly-pops. We learnt the art of hammering and cracking and fishing about in the shards of shell for tiny morsels of sweet, sweet crab meat on the dock of a water-side bar in Deale on the Chesapeake. Just an hour away from DC, after a day on the beach, we felt like we were on holiday as we ate and drank beer in this beautiful spot. We ordered half a dozen medium crabs, along with a side of hush puppies, and were delighted when the crabs arrived covered in old bay seasoning. While it was hard work (especially when the sun had set) for not very much meat, what we got out of them was completely delicious.

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Oysters

We discovered oysters in Boston. Did you know that oysters from different places taste different? Well we’d never found this until we went to Boston and found that oyster menus are more like wine menus, practically coming with tasting notes. We have learnt that the more Northern oysters from the coast are usually saltier than the ones that come from the Chesapeake or the Virginia river estuaries. Once we’d had our education in Boston (at their Legal Seafood and the wonderful Neptune Oyster) we found that Pop’s Seabar on our street in DC also has fresh oysters daily in at least three varieties, so we’ve been continuing to enjoy tastings.

oysters
The oysters and the water they came from – on the Chesapeake. (Beer goes surprisingly well with oysters we’ve found.)

The rest

We haven’t made such a comprehensive survey of other seafood such as scallops, shrimp and mussels. And I’ve not really had much straight fish. However, we’ve had excellent meals including scallops, in both DC and Boston. Cashion’s Eat Place does nice things with scallops but it was at Boston’s tiny Neptune Oyster that we had the stand-out dish of our time here. R had amazing scallops tossed with perfectly cooked sprouts, and I had one of the best seafood stews I’ve had outside of France.

scallopsIMG_0489

I have noticed a tendency in DC to overcook mussels. This was not a problem at Neptune Oyster.

One place we have not visited yet is New Orleans, where I’m told they have amazing shrimp. So far the shrimp I’ve had in shrimp and grits has been excellent, but I’ve heard that in New Orleans they get Gulf Shrimp, which I need to try. I’m also looking forward to finally travelling to the West coast this fall – R has been and has brought back reports of amazing sushi and fish dishes.

There’s probably lots of American seafood we still haven’t tried – the combination of a lot of coast and numerous culinary styles is a guarantee of that. I just hope the fish stocks hold out. Luckily there are some fish so plentiful they’re actually considered a pest – a local seafood bar hosts a regular all-you-can-eat blue catfish night to do its bit to ‘save the seas’ (see their facebook page). I think I need to get down there!

‘American’ Food

This post was written a couple of months ago, but I just found it and thought I’d post – just to add to my growing collection of food posts.

[image by Imjustmatthew (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons]

I’m having a love affair with crab. Crab cakes and crab dip to be precise. And while I keep thinking that it will become too rich, too cloying – as dressed crab in the UK always did – between two halves of sweet bun or muddled with horseradish, this obsession is not going anywhere.

Of course this is just a part of my wider love affair with American food and beer. I thought that after a few months I’d be bored of burgers and IPA and desperate to get back to the joys of camembert and Bordeaux, but that just shows how ignorant I was of the variety of burgers and beers that can be experienced over here. I reckon I’ve got at least another month before I start to crave what some over here call indiscriminately ‘ethnic food’.

So here’s a quick list of the best places to get American food – especially crab – that I’ve been to so far. Most are in DC, but I thought it would be unfair to miss out the best brew pub in Binghampton for merely geographical reasons – especially as it restored my faith in upstate NY after being horribly disappointed by the Holiday Inn room service. (That experience went something like this: ‘Can I get a beer?’ ‘What kind do you want?’ ‘Do you have any local IPAs?’ ‘No.’ ‘Well do you have any IPAs?’ ‘No.’ ‘Well, then what do you have?!’)

  1. Legal Seafoods. I thought I’d had the best crab dip in the world. I hadn’t until I came here. This is without doubt the best crab dip you will get in DC – they’ve certainly had the time to get it right. They also, according to numerous reviews, have the best crab cakes, and the best seafood in general. And their New England style clam chowder has the presidential seal of approval, having been served at the inaugurations since 1981. Certainly I couldn’t choose from all the delicious looking things on the menu and had to go with their wood-grilled assortment (chef’s choice of three types of wood-grilled fish with jumbo shrimp and sweet, sweet scallops as well as a choice of two sides). While I ate some of the vegetable sides for vitamins I relinquished most of the fries in favour of eating more fish – there was no way I could eat it all. I seem to remember we had wine, and dessert, and that they – and the service – were also excellent. But what sticks in the memory is that crab dip and those sweet scallops.
  2. Capitol City Brewing Company. This was my favourite crab dip before we went to Legal Seafoods. One of the best things about this place is that you get warm pretzels with a mustard dip instead of an ordinary dinner roll – and they’re also available free at the bar to accompany your beer. CCBC also has the best crab cake sandwich I’ve tasted. In fact I can’t bring myself to try any of the other ‘entrees’ on the menu. I’m just not willing to forgo that pleasure which I really thought would tip over and get too much, but never did. The wings are ok, and I’m told the burgers are very good but, for me, it’s just about the beer, the pretzels and the crab cake.
  3. Cashions. Now this is another place where American food comes with wine rather than beer. Good wine too – we enjoyed an Argentinian red made from one of those minor French grapes like malbec that’s done so well in South America. This is also one of those places where you can have a burger, and I’m sure it would be an amazing burger, and no-one would judge you for it, but how can you pass up the bison steak? Or the scallops? This is a local but somewhat fancy restaurant – people come here to celebrate special occasions – and the people who run it are just the best examples of famous American hospitality I’ve seen over here. We were three people with no reservation on a busy Saturday night, but they didn’t turn a hair. In terms of their menu, they keep it simple and short, and change it with the availability of local ingredients – what more could you ask for?
  4. Galaxy Brewing Company (Binghampton). This place was just the perfect American experience. We showed up with nine people and were seated immediately. There’s plenty of room, a two-sided list of beers on tap, and the staff are friendly. On the night we were there a country/folk duo were playing who produced a sound like something out of Inside Llewyn Davies. I had a special – crab cake BLT – which was a great idea, and definitely lived up to its billing. There was also a spirited debate about whether either of the vegetarians had ever tasted a better veggie burger, so I think the rest of the menu was equally good. The beer was one of the most beautifully balanced, hoppy, fruity and well-kept IPAs I’ve ever tasted. It was, for me, perfection. It was great later on to be able to share that with the proprietor, who, in that lovely way of smaller towns, came to ask us how things had been.
  5. Black Squirrel. Did you know there was such a thing as a black squirrel? Well there is, and we have them in DC. They’re slightly larger than the grey squirrel and sometimes boast a chestnut-coloured tail, and they give the name to this small bar/restaurant on 18th street. There’s not much that differentiates it from other good pubs that serve American food, but they do a number of very good burgers topped with various cheeses, bacon etc., and serve excellent beers from around the US.
  6. Jack Rose. Or, as they call themselves, Jack Rose ‘Dining Saloon’. It’s hard for me to remember the food here as what they’re really good at is whisky – especially bourbon and rye, of which they’ll pour you a tasting flight if you ask. But I seem to remember some excellent whisky-glazed wings, a good burger, and a seriously good sandwich. And I think that’s the food group that’s most different over here – the sandwich. While one of our aristocracy may give his name to it, the Americans have entirely reinvented the genre. Here you can have a sandwich for dinner because they’re that satisfying.

As people might correctly object, this list covers a relatively narrow variety of what I’m calling ‘American’ food. I guess I’m mainly sticking to foods that are representative of American pub-food, and mostly specialities from Maryland and New York. I’ve not covered Southern cuisine – grits, barbeque, Cajun – but I’ve not experienced enough of that yet, and I’m also not sure that DC’s the best place to do so. Also this list does not include fast-food, or pizza. For the record, there are some pretty upscale fast food places over here – Five Guys, for example, which I think is now also in Manchester, and Shake Shack with its amazing secret sauce. These deserve their own post, which I’m sure I’ll get round to at some point!