People sometimes forget that the DelMarVa area – of which Maryland is part of – has been settled for over 400 years. Early settlers brought Renaissance cooking techniques from Europe, which included making all kinds of loaves, savory and sweet pies, as well as crumbles. This involved mixing the main protein (or fruit) with seasoned bread crumbs and fat before cooking. The common technique accomplished many things: stretching out the expensive/hard to obtain ingredient, preserving it to some degree before the days of refrigeration, and of course, flavor.
Baltimore has its own takes on crab cakes, they've become world-famous. Locals get the hankering for a traditional flavor – though they're more expensive than they used to be. Tourists can't seem leave town without sampling one (or several).
Certainly, there's a sub-industry for listing the best crab cake. Hey, you're reading this list! Publications have competing annual lists, vehemently disagreeing with each other. There are a lot of factors that go into what makes a great crab cake, not the least of which involves personal palates. Historically, crab cakes were made with mostly backfin meat, which has a distinct flavor. Modern tastes tend to adore the sweeter, milder and more costly jumbo lump meat. How much breading do you like? Some people like a creation that's more akin to Crab Imperial, it's so creamy and rich. Others love the crunch that's brought on by fried bread crumbs ("filler").
Classics like Faidley’s in Lexington Market are popular city favorites, offering options between backfin and jumbo lump while Food Network-appointed contender, Gertrude’s incorporates its farm to table philosophy in its crab cakes - blending fresh local ingredients with simple lump crab meat.
You don't have to get the recipe books and seafood sources out to have fresh crab cakes at home: Graul's makes a very delicious option.
They're reasonably priced. They get a great crunchy crust when baked in a convection oven, 10 minutes at 450 degrees.
here's a little bit of fresh parsley, a touch of Old Bay seasoning (not overly spicy) and lots of fresh crab lumps. It's not manhandled, very restaurant quality and large like a hamburger!
Graul's only uses all natural ingredients in their recipes, some of which have been passed down through three generations of their family. (410-823-6077)
G & M Restaurant
G & M uses huge lumps of sweet crab in their massive crab cakes. They're not seasoned with Old Bay, so you get all crab flavor. The cakes are gently assembled and don't have a bunch of filler.
Located minutes from BWI airport, 10 minutes from downtown Baltimore and 30 minutes from DC, it's not surprising to see airline pilots, politicians, etc. chowing down here.
This is a sizable restaurant with two stories and several rooms: large groups can be accommodated. The bar area has a television, to keep up with all of our local college and professional sports teams! (410-636-1777)
Pierpoint is located off the harbor on a quieter street in Fell's Point. Chef owner Nancy Longo is the creative force behind this intimate restaurant in a townhouse.
A real chef's chef well-respected by local restauranteurs, Longo conducts award-winning cooking classes for adults and children. She knows her local food products as well as a wide swath of global cuisine. With her smaller restaurant, she's able to keep the quality top-notch and select the freshest seafood sources.
Sure, you can get a traditional crab cake made with jumbo lump crabmeat, served golden brown. But you can also plate it with a smoked crab cake! Smoked seafood (such as oysters, mussels, clams) are what started this country: the colonies sent such delicacies back to England to repay debts. Longo does her own take on the traditional slaw accompaniment: broccoli slaw! (4106752080)
Ocean Pride Seafood
Are you looking for a neighborhood place that the "real" people go to, not touristy at all? Ocean Pride is one of those local secrets, serving fresh seafood for over four decades
Along with traditional broiled or fried crab cakes, they have "crab fluff": jumbo lump crab cake beer battered and fried. For something really interesting, try the Fried Hard Crab: a large crab stuffed with their crab cake and deep fried. It's market priced.
The batter covering the crab cake is well-seasoned with spice and a solid hit of salt. The cake itself has parsley, backfin and some lumps. The shell itself provides flavor, too. It's accompanied by lightly dressed coleslaw. ((410) 321-7744)
Pappas Seafood Company
Pappas Seafood Co has three family-owned locations: the original in Parkville, one in Cockeysville and the third in Glen Burnie. Their classic crab cake – the 7 oz – has been featured in several media outlets. It won Travel Channel's 2010 Local Food Wars and (former Baltimore resident) Oprah's 2015 "My Favorite Things".
There's also a double crab cake, some people order triple crab cakes off menu and also the Colossal Courage Crab Cake (10 oz): Pappas and Ed Block Foundation teamed up, with a portion of the sales helping end child abuse.
All of their recipes are unique and secret: only one person knows them! The Colossal Courage one especially has colossal lumps. The inside is creamy – not much filling at all – with well seasoned, sweet crab and garnished with remoulade and red pepper.
Pappas ships its crab cakes for fans all over the world to enjoy. ((410) 661-4357)
Jimmy's Famous Seafood Restaurant
Jimmy's has been family owned since 1974. Indeed, with their huge banquet halls, they've been the tasty destination for rehearsal dinners, wedding banquets and even final send-off gatherings for generations of Baltimore's families.
The quality is consistently tops and has remained so throughout the decades.
Their famous crab cakes (which can be shipped anywhere you like!)are excellent. They're very big, at 8 oz, with a mix of lots of sweet lump and backfin for flavor. They're not overly seasoned, but have fresh parsley. The texture is moist and creamy – not manhandled.
They're open 365 days a year, so stop worrying that you burned the turkey.
The owner is very involved in the community, raises money for charity. Locals love him for his salt of the earth comments about the Mayor on Facebook! (4106334040)
Gertrude's is located in the Baltimore Museum of Art, ensuring both a foodie and cultured crowd in the north part of the city, adjacent to Johns Hopkins University.
John Shields is a scholar on the traditional fare of Maryland's Eastern Shore, where crab cakes most likely originated. Not only can you get today's favorite jumbo lump crab cake, but he also offers a "crab cake du jour". After all, traditional crab cakes were a way to flavor and stretch all the crab, so indulge in a taste treat: step back into time with one of his darker leg meat cakes, perhaps glazed with stone ground mustard for extra flavor. (410-889-3399)
Costas Inn has its own take on seasoning for steamed crabs: they don't just throw a bunch of Old Bay and black pepper on them. It has a distinct sweetness to it – perhaps some toasted onion in there. It's beloved by celebrities and food authors, including David Rosengarten and the folks on the Today show.
They offer their crab cakes broiled or fried, but lots of people prefer broiled, especially for their 1/2 lb. size. Broiling makes a nice crust outside. They also offer a dish with two 5 oz cakes. The cakes have lots of jumbo lump, with a little breading to bind them. They're very flavorful, with their own special seasoning creating a bit of heat.
Their Sandwich Chesapeake has a broiled crab cake and their creamy fresh shrimp salad on toasted 12-grain bread. (410-365-0145)
Aldo's is considered by far and away the most gourmet restaurant in Baltimore's Little Italy. Family owned, Chef and son Sergio Vitale is a true foodie. He travels the world, checks out different restaurants, sources the very best in meats and local produce. Vitale is insistent on not drowning their natural goodness in butter and cream.
Their crab cakes are made from fresh local Blue Crab, with a true crab flavor. They're cooked "sous vide", allowing the seafood to remain super moist. The cakes have a good hit of Old Bay, fresh parsley and seasoned breading. They're nice and crisp outside and since they're not manhandled, they're remain tender inside.
The interior of this classic Baltimore row home has been transformed to resemble an outdoor Italian restaurant, complete with sidewalk . . . but the "interior" tables are comfier and more private. (410-727-0700)
Faidley's, located minutes from the Inner Harbor in Lexington Market, is a crab cake landmark. Eat-In is done at stand-up tables, where you might rub elbows with famous sports stars or politicians with your made to order treat.
Their award-winning crab cakes have been featured in various publications as well as on the Food Network. After well more than a century in business, they have their own local sources of the freshest Blue Crab. To understand the local flavors, try both a backfin and (more expensive) jumbo lump. Backfin has a more traditional flavor, while jumbo lump is sweeter. (410-727-4898)
About Tamar Alexia Fleishman
It takes a Renaissance woman to cover cool, shocking, tasty and thought-provoking things.
Tamar was a professional violinist, studying with Daniel Heifetz at Peabody Conservatory, serving as Principal Second with Annapolis Symphony. She earned her BA in Political Science from Goucher, her JD from the University of Baltimore and is a member of the Maryland Bar.
She’s appeared on TV with Bill Maher, Greta Van Susteren and Peter Frampton. A foodie, she’s judged the Roadkill Cookoff, the International Water Tasting Fest, the Mason-Dixon Chef Tournament.
Tamar’s a Kentucky Colonel, a beauty pageant winner and managed Southern rock and alt-country bands.
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