Cantler’s Riverside Inn – Annapolis, MD
It’s one of those mysteries of nature, like salmon traveling several thousand miles to return home to spawn and die or male praying mantis doing the horizontal with females despite knowing that they’ll end up headless during or after. Self control, self discipline and even self-preservation are no match when something is pre-ordained and programmed into your DNA.
By virtue of my birthplace, I am pre-ordained to love crabs. When in the vicinity of Maryland (i.e. Washington DC), I am programmed to find them and eat them, while fully aware of the consequences:
- I never know whether my face may end up looking like a leopard or like I have measles or like a leopard with measles, but, as per my husband, that’s what brown paper bags are for.
- My nasal passages may constrict a little, but oxygen deprivation every now and then is not altogether a bad thing. Athletes have been known to train under those conditions to increase the capacity of their lungs.
- It may even be life-threatening, but I firmly believe that’s why God let man discover epinephrine.
In other words, for every problem, there is always a solution … or in this case, an excuse 🙂
It rather irritates me that I’ve developed an allergy later in life to the one food I’ve loved since childhood. Growing up in a country with 7100 islands, I took fresh crabs (and prawns and fish, etc.) as a given. On Sunday mornings, my father, the real cook in the family, would go to the Seaside market along Roxas Blvd (near Manila Bay) and come home dangling plastic bags containing one or two live alimango, brownish black mud crabs, with strips of coconut leaf tied around them like straitjackets. These are nothing like the dainty crabs of the Chesapeake, with their pretty mottled blue shells and delicate pincers that shatter with a smash of a mallet. No, alimango look like mini footballs with beady peppercorn eyes darting back and forth as their claws try to snap off your finger. These sad creatures await their fate in a palanggana, a shallow plastic basin, while Dad fires up the wok with the steamer. Death comes quickly with a jab in the eyes courtesy of a chopstick, then in they go. A few minutes later, what went in an ugly dull puce emerges a beautiful bright vermilion.
When I was younger and more impatient, I preferred the easy-to-get-at claw meat. As I grew older, I learned to appreciate digging through the multitude of crevices for the much sweeter and more finely-textured backfin. It became a game to crack the body in such a way that one is left with a swimmer leg crowned by a whole lump crab meat, like a white rose on an orange stem. Although most Chinese restaurants serve steamed crabs with dark vinegar, at home, we always dipped the ‘rose’ in hot Baguio oil poured over raw minced garlic and rock salt.
Now that I’m half a world away, there’s only one place I go to for a full-blown crab-fest. Cantler’s in Annapolis, Maryland.
Our first time at Cantler’s was over fifteen years ago, coinciding with our first visit to Annapolis. After asking local strangers for recommendations on where to eat crabs, we found ourselves driving merrily along the back roads towards the US Naval Academy Golf Course, passing bungalows and RV trailers on postage size lots with overgrown grass and chicken wire fencing. Since this was before the age of the GPS, we marveled at being able to find the place at all.
From the street, it doesn’t look particularly exciting, a nondescript two story shack surrounded by bimmers and benzes as well as chevys and fords. There is a large deck at the back laid out with picnic tables that overlook the Severn River. On a warm sunny day, nothing beats sitting outdoors and digging into a tray of steamed crabs generously seasoned with old bay, unencumbered by utensils (except for a mallet) and with only a sheet of brown kraft paper as plate and place mat. Bring your own bib. It’s the epitome of summer eating.
We’ve been back a few times with friends. This trip we bring family, my brother-in-law and his wife. We arrive a little past 6pm and wait two hours to get a table outside. It’s dusk by the time we are seated, and we order decisively — two dozen medium sized crabs and four ears of corn to be eaten under outdoor floodlights. They arrive entangled in one big mass on a plastic tray. Each crab is packed and dense like a paperweight. My sister-in-law and I go about it methodically, prying off the shell from the body, sucking out the delicious tomalley, then teasing out bits of lump crab meat from every little cranny. The men, on the other hand, work quickly, not even attempting to pick at the meat, just breaking off portions of the body and scraping the entire thing with their teeth. They are on their third while we are just finishing up our first. The corn serves as an intermission. I’ve forgotten how sweet Cantler’s corn are and I always end up wishing I’d gotten two. When we are all done, there are four crabs left, even though we all swore we each had six. Go figure.
So, a few hours later, I paid for my excesses despite popping a Claritin D before and after. but it was worth it. I’ll tone it down in the future. Next time, I’ll just have five.