Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Soft Shell Crabs -- Get Them While You Can!!

528 N. Church Lane
Tappahanock, VA

I’m a marketer’s dream.

Tell me something is “scarce”, “in limited supply” or “available for a short time ONLY”, I’m a sucker every time.

That probably explains why I spend so much time in the “Seasonal Beer” aisle of my local Total Wine.

I’ve just got to stock up now for summer on that “limited edition” Harpoon Summer Ale. (Note to local beer distributor: you better replenish your supply, because I just cleaned you out.)

While brewers will always entice me with their seasonal offerings that go down perfectly with a hot backyard barbeque in summer or a cozy fire at Christmas, I’m a sucker for seasonal foods too.

That must explain my obsession with soft shell crabs.

Soft shells are fleeting creatures, available for only a few hours during a few months of the year.

Now that’s what I call limited edition!

Traditional holds that you can only get fresh soft shell crabs for a few weeks after the first full moon of May. That is certainly when they are most prevalent on the menu boards of Chesapeake Bay restaurants.

In reality, you can still get them throughout the summer. (Just don’t tell the soft shells’ V.P. of Marketing.)

All crabs go through a few moltings during their lifespan, where they plump up and slip out of their hard shell and immediately begin growing a new shell.

And that’s all a soft shell crab is -- just a regular ol’ blue crab found so prevalent in southern coastal waters -- going through change of life.

Waterman around the Chesapeake Bay quickly figured out that if you time it just right, before the new hard shell forms, you can fry up and eat a soft crab whole.


Yep. Belly, back, legs and all. Just bite right into him.

That’s a hell of a lot less work than all that cracking, hammering, pounding, poking and picking required to extract the meat from a hard crab.

A soft shell crab sandwich is a lazy man’s crab feast.

Maybe that’s the real reason I love them so much.

Delicious, luscious fresh blue crab -- without all the work.

Passing through the small eastern Virginia town of Tappahanock in late May, I knew Lowery’s would be the perfect place to find soft shells.

Lowery’s has been serving up the bounty of the Virginia coast since 1938 just a stone’s throw from the mighty Rappahannock River which empties into the Chesapeake Bay 30 miles southeast of here.

Dark, cozy and old school with nautical knickknacks and paintings of watermen on the wall, the average age of the customer base rivals the age of the restaurant itself.

If you want hip and young, well, Lowery’s isn’t going to be your kind of place.

However, rumor has it that there is a tiki bar around back that can get somewhat lively (or as lively as anything gets in Tappahanock) during happy hour.

As usual, it was a work day for Suit757, so I’ll probably never know for sure.

I knew I came to the right place as soon as I walked through the front door when I read the hand written sheet of paper tacked up next to the hostess stand reading “fresh local soft shells available.”


I was so excited.

Lowery’s version didn’t disappoint.

One of the largest soft shells I’ve ever seen, perfectly fried in a nice tasty batter, placed on a toasted bun with lettuce, tomato and a slather of tartar sauce.

Eating a soft shell crab sandwich is just fun -- like eating a big delicious bug.

Crispy fried legs dangling out of the bun on all sides, I felt a sense of jubilation just picking the crustacean up and holding the sucker in front my face.

Of course the best part of all is biting into that bad boy. No shells or bones to worry about -- just pure fresh crab meat.

Just before the still alive soft crab goes into the fryer, the cook slices off the crab’s face and scrapes out the lungs and hind quarters so you don’t have to worry about consuming anything you shouldn’t.

Just bite into it.

Which is exactly what I did.

The legs were crispy. The body soft and moist.

Of course there was that slight tug from the soft skin that serves as a molting crab’s only protection against the dangers of being a soft, delicious maritime creature alone in the wilds of the Chesapeake Bay.

It is that yin and yang of textures of a soft shell crab that can be somewhat off putting to land lubbers, Yankees, Obama voters and other such joy killers.

But I try not to hang out with people like that.

Lowery’s other food items were just as delicious, if not quite as seasonally exclusive.

The crab dip was almost pure crab meat, with the cheeses and seasonings serving strictly as background music.

The rolls were warm, fresh out of the oven.

Sweet candied yams and crunchy, creamy cole slaw rounded out a fantastic meal.

Lowery’s isn’t cheap.

The Soft shell sandwich was $12. The crab dip was $15. The crab cake sandwich was $14.

But all of it was good.

I don’t get as irritated by the big bill at the end when I enjoy a meal this much.

After all, dining at Lowery’s is once-n-a-lifetime opportunity available to an exclusive but discerning subset of diners who just happened to be passing by during the extremely limited soft shell crab season.

Yep. I fall for it every time.

And this time, I’m glad I did.

Rating: Seriously Thought about Buying Shirt.

Lowery's Seafood Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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