Thursday, August 21, 2014

Harris Crab House: More Fun than a Trip to the Shrink

Harris Crab House
433 Kent Narrow Way N.
Grasonville, MD

My Harris Crab House t-shirt sums it up perfectly:

“Group Therapy – One Bushel at a Time”

With a little waterman dude emblazoned on a big old bushel of freshly steamed Chesapeake Bay blue crabs.

(Spoiler Alert: I know I like to keep you in suspense until the end of the review, but…I bought the shirt.)

Some activities in life, like using a bathroom on a Regional Jet, man was meant to do alone.

But man is a social creature. We crave the company of other humans.

That is why other activities are best enjoyed in a group of friends.

Picking crabs is definitely one of those.

A crab feast is all about sitting outside on the water, passing around pitchers of cold beer, enjoying the sunshine and salty sea breeze and whiling away a lazy summer afternoon in conversation about matters simple or sublime, profound or frivolous.

Yeah, there is food involved. Sort of.

But a crab feast isn’t really about sustenance. It’s about the experience.

Group therapy.

Forget your daily routine, leave the laptop at home, power off your smart phone.

Get together with some friends you haven’t seen in a while, engage in dialogue that doesn’t involve thumbs on a tiny keyboard and hang out pounding away at bottom dwelling sea creatures with little wooden mallets.

The conversation, beer and sunshine provide the therapy. The crabs are just the excuse.

So for me, Harris’ perfect waterfront locale of its upstairs outdoor deck on Kent Narrows just over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge from Annapolis is justification enough to bestow upon Harris the title of quintessential Maryland crab house.

It just doesn’t get any better than this.

That being said, the tab for our group therapy (there were eight of us) came to $500.


So no matter how bucolic the setting, for that price, you better dump some decent crabs onto the table in front of us.

In the three or four times I’ve visited Harris, the place hasn’t let me down yet.

While the conversation at any crab feast usually remains appropriately light, controversy can erupt unexpectedly.

Our most contentious discussion on this Saturday afternoon dealt with this very subject -- critiquing Maryland’s famous crab houses.

One person in particular in our little party was aware of my alias as an internationally-known world-famous food critic -- and took exception to my panning of Cantler’s on the other side of the bridge.

Cantler’s is arguably the most popular crab house in Maryland, but my lone experience there left much to be desired. (Read about it here.)

My argumentative friend declared, “You can’t say Cantler’s has bad crabs. Nobody MAKES crabs! They just serve whatever is caught in the crab pot.”

While I conceded his point that crab houses don’t “make” crabs (a guy at a higher pay grade gets the credit for that), there are some important rules to follow when you make your living selling bushels of crabs that cost more than an early model Ford Focus.

First of all, the crabs need to be fresh -- as in still kicking and clawing for life when you put them in the steamer.

Second, you need to steam the crabs the exact number of moments that turn their shells from blue to red without transforming their delicate crabmeat into crabmush.

And finally, the steamed crabs should be served within minutes -- not hours or days -- after emerging from the steamer.

I’m happy to say, Harris has this process down to a science.

Our four dozen “large” crabs (Harris was out of the much more expensive “extra-large” and “jumbos”) were dumped upon our brown paper-covered picnic table in perfect condition.

Bright red, still warm and coated in Harris’ signature salty seasoning, these 48 crustaceans provided the table with an afternoon of picking, pounding and prying.

And even a little bit of crabmeat.

You’ll burn more calories than you consume.

But that’s why God invented hush puppies as well as crabs.

Harris serves excellent puppies, warm, doughy and sweet.

Even more sweet was the moist cake-like corn bread.

Of course the most important part of any crab feast is not the crabs. Or the hush puppies. Or even the conversation.

It’s the beer.

Harris has a decent selection of local craft beers available in the bottle.

My Lot No. 3 IPA from Evolution Brewing Company in Salisbury was a new one for me.

Of course you can never go wrong with a Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA from just down the Delmarva.

But let’s face it, if you are going to sit outside in the August sun all afternoon eating salt-coated crabs, even the most devout beer snob should switch eventually to pitchers of lower octane, lower priced good old American lager.

And that is basically how the afternoon unfolded.

We left the suits at home, put on our flip-flops, passed around cheap pitchers of Coors Light, soaked up the salt air and retold those decade old stories -- some of which even have a bit of truth to them.

Group therapy.

Yeah, $500 is a steep price to pay for an afternoon of hanging out on the Chesapeake.

But it’s a hell of a lot more fun than an appointment with your shrink.

Rating: I Already Told You -- Bought the Shirt!

Harris Crab House on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic review, we went to Harris' after reading Tom Seitsema's review in the Washington Post and have gone back many times since. We drive down from Pennsylvania for the experience. Never disappointed. Thanks again for your write up.