Maryland’s largest city is where Edgar Allen Poe lived and died at the age of 40. His spirit, however, lives on through Poe-tractions, including an eatery called TellTale. But the true heart of Baltimore is best discovered under a sprinkling of Old Bay Seasoning on any dish made with Maryland’s ubiquitous Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic blue crab.
Poe didn’t live to see the renaissance of Baltimore’s famed Inner Harbor, but if he had, he’d want to spend a day or two at Hotel Monaco, located on the waterfront at the former site of the B&O Railroad headquarters. Here, I began my day luxuriating in the hotel’s Mediterranean Spa Suite, using the in-room yoga mat in a salute to the sun before setting off to indulge in multiple variations of blue crab menu options. I began my exploration with a stop for breakfast at Miss Shirley’s Cafe.
In a nod to Southern-leaning cuisine, Miss Shirley serves a Blue Crab Cakes Benedict over fried green tomatoes, a breakfast favorite among locals and visitors alike. However, Shirley’s Affair With Oscar — a tender filet of beef paired with asparagus and savory grits and served with fried green tomatoes showered with pieces of crab meat and a schmear of aioli — won my vote.
Just as the slap of the bay waters and cry of gulls led me to explore the National Aquarium, where I learned electric eels can discharge enough electricity to stun a horse, my quest to sample ever more crab lured me to lunch at nearby Phillips Seafood. This traditional Maryland eatery is known for Chesapeake Bay fare, including a rightfully famous blue crab cake. It also boasts an outdoor crab deck with almost 200 seats that cater to the messy and socially boisterous business of cracking crabs and imbibing local-brewed beers.
Also within the Inner Harbor, Baltimore’s Little Italy contributes to the crab feast with the bay-to-table menu served at the authentically Venetian-designed La Tavola. A starter of crab bruschetta progressed to a plate of deep-fried soft-shell crab and house-made squid ink pasta topped with crab meat. Oh, yes.
The next morning, I departed the Inner Harbor to grab a plate of crab hash across the city at Iron Rooster. This menu took a twist on tradition in many forms, and my favorite was a plate of pancakes topped with crab cakes and Baltimore’s signature aioli, made with Old Bay Seasoning.
At the Baltimore Museum of Art, a stroll through the Asian and African collections with a mix of Matisse helped burn off some calories before lunch inside the museum’s restaurant, Gertrude’s. Owned by Chesapeake Bay cookbook author and celebrity chef John Shields, Gertrude’s is the place to lunch on special crab cake dishes among a view of the sculpture garden. It’s also the place to grab an autographed cookbook from Shields personally, his latest titled “Chesapeake Bay Cooking with John Shields.”
Before leaving Baltimore, I crunched the deep-fried soft-shell blue crab legs protruding from two pieces of white bread at R. House, a pop-up inside an industrial complex, before exploring Fell’s Point, just east of Inner Harbor. Boutiques line this waterfront area, interspersed with pubs such as the newest Points South Latin Kitchen, where I devoured what, in my humble opinion, is the most creative dish of local crab meat, thanks to Chef Rey Eugenio. With a slightly creamy texture, yet not cream-based, the crab and avocado on crispy yucca cake is best washed down with a Minas Margarita. This spicy dish hurts so good; its creative recipe would have surely driven Poe to be “raven” mad with envy.
— Charlene Peters is a passionate explorer of indigenous dishes throughout the world. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Creamy Crab & Avocado
Makes 8 servings
For the Creamy Mojo Sauce:
• 1 cup mayonnaise
• 2 garlic cloves
• 1 tbsp. cilantro
• ¼ to ½ red habanero
• 1/4 tsp. cumin powder
• Pinch of allspice powder
• 1/4 tsp. oregano
• 1.5 tbsp. lime juice
• Salt, to taste
For the Yucca Torta:
• 2 large yucca root
• 1 tbsp. salt
• Yucca flour, for dusting
• 1/4 lb. fresh crabmeat per serving
Whisk all items for the sauce together.
Peel and cut yucca into 4- to 5-inch-length pieces. Quarter each piece and cut off the core part of the yucca. Cut each piece into large chunks and place into a pot filled with water; bring to a boil. Once water boils, turn heat down to simmer. Cook until soft and drain liquid, reserving 1/2 cup.
Run cooked yucca through a food mill with the salt. Let cool. Work into a ball, adding yucca flour if the yucca is too wet or the reserved liquid if the yucca is too dry. Next, place the yucca in a stainless bowl, cover lightly with plastic wrap and let the yucca rest in the refrigerator overnight.
When the dough has rested, use a rolling pin to roll out the dough using yucca flour to prevent sticking. Cut the yucca into desired shape and place in refrigerator for about an hour. In a large sauté pan over medium to medium-high heat, place enough cooking oil to fry the yucca “disc” to a golden brown.
Top the yucca with crabmeat, avocado and Creamy Mojo Sauce.
— Courtesy of Points South Latin Kitchen