All words: Riley Croghan
All photos: Stephanie Breijo
I was born in Virginia, but call Maryland home. Now, lets not talk about which state is better–first, because it’s one of the most stereotypically boring arguments you’ll have with the sort of people who will be moving to a new city within three months, and second, because its obviously Maryland. I only really bring this up to make a claim as knowing at least something about crustaceans. I’ve got plenty of childhood memories of going crabbing on the Chesapeake with nothing but raw chicken and some twine, and one decidedly less happy memory about a time I got food poisoning so bad it turned my entire family off of soft shell crabs. Forever.
Let’s not talk about that either.
What is worth talking about is how lucky we all are to live in a city close enough to fresh crab that we have chances to experience some fairly decent crab cakes. Local restaurants compete fiercely for the reputation of their crab cakes; this weekend, we were able to see that play out literally at The American Institute of Wine & Food’s Crab Cake Competition.
Eight local chefs presented their best take on the dish, which ranged from traditional to exotic. For example, Chef John Critchley of BOURBON STEAK (and hat tip to them for stylizing their restaurant name in INTERNET YELLING) whipped up a savory bone marrow and crab cake topped with a lightly sweet caramelized passionfruit glaze. It was bold and a little daring without distracting too much from the crab meat, which was a terrific accomplishment in itself, although it was rich enough that you might not want to go much bigger than the sample size serving.
Then you have the crab meat purists, which for my money will absolutely be the best approach to crab cake. The ideal cake is 99% crab, with the barest minimum filler holding it together. Chef Spike Gjerde of Woodberry Kitchen hails from Baltimore, and delivered on that front. His crab cakes were mostly seared crab meat, rolled around a small garnish like a sushi roll, topped with a dusting of the component seasonings of Old Bay. For as simple as it was, it really let the tender crab meat come through with all its natural flavor, and it drew one of the longest lines of people waiting for a sample.
The winner of the night was Jeff Black of Black Restaurant Group, assisted by Danny Wells, his partner from the soon-to-be newest addition to his restaurant group, Takoma Republic. The chefs won the judges’ award with a cake with just the right amount of filler, and a sweet corn and tomato garnish with a hint of spice to it.
Of course, most locals have a favorite take on this, and there are plenty of restaurants out there for me still to try—if you have a favorite crab cake, let me know in the comments
For now: back to your regularly scheduled food porn.