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Belly Up

Landing on Their Feet

New Owners Fix Up the Food at Former Bahama Mama's

Mariner's Landing

Address:601 Wise Ave.
Dundalk, MD 21222

More on Mariner's Landing.

By Susan Fradkin | Posted 3/15/2000

You go to a crab house to eat crabs, no? Well, in the case of Dundalk's Mariner's Landing, it's yes and no. It's true that on a frigid January night we saw lots of folks at the Landing smashin' and pickin'. The crabs came in three sizes, and the largest ones, at $60 per dozen, appeared hefty indeed. But C.C. and I, with pal Dena in tow, had not come to satisfy a crab jones. Not exactly, anyway. We wanted to see what changes, if any, had been wrought by the new owners of what used to be Bahama Mama's.

The eatery's new name is classier than its previous one, and the cuisine's improved too, but the restaurant's beach-bum ambiance hasn't changed much. (It's not that I object to the little outdoor beach, but I always recall my grandmother's warning that alfresco dining benefits ants and flies more than people.) And upon taking over the property, the new owners inherited Bahama Mama's squalid bar, ceiling-leak stains, and atrocious pink-and-aqua color scheme. Aside from this, the décor consists of several forlorn plants, a bit of neon, and a smattering of stained glass. Pulling this place together will definitely be a job, but, wisely, the owners have elected to spruce up the food first -- under the previous management, the fare was pricey and rather ordinary. The prices are down now, and, even better, the quality of the food, while not flawless, is way, way up.

In fact, one of our first courses was so fabulous I figured -- wrongly -- that things could only go down from there. The fried eggplant with herbed cheese and marinara sauce ($4.95) was a special, but I pray it becomes a menu staple. The layers of crisply fried aubergine, creamy ricotta, and fragrant marinara would definitely pull me back to Dundalk like a magnet. Now that Haussner's is no more, I am on the prowl for flawless fried eggplant, and this was the best I've found so far -- so good, in fact, that we asked the kitchen to fry us up a couple batches with our entrées. The coconut shrimp ($5.95) were also quite good, seven fair-sized beauties with orange marmalade (a better dipping sauce, please!) on a bed of greens. A cup of crab soup ($1.75) proved spicy and full of veggies and claw meat.

Dena had never tried a crab fluff, so she ordered an entrée portion of the shellfish concoction ($15.95). I loved the look of amazement that flashed across her face when our server, polite and soft-spoken, placed the grapefruit-sized sphere before her. At C.C.'s urging, Dena dug into the fried exterior in search of the crab-imperial center. And this imperial was impressive -- moist, creamy, well-seasoned, and full of lumps. The baked potato, a big fellow, came just the way I like it: nice crispy skin (the kind you can eat, to get all the B vitamins), soft on the inside.

C.C.'s stuffed fried hard crab ($12.95) featured the traditional monster-sized crustacean. For those of you unfamiliar with the species, this dish starts with a cleaned, steamed crab. A mound of crab imperial is then fitted into the depression in the center of the crab's body, and the whole thing is dipped into a sea of batter and deep-fried. It's not an easy dish to prepare -- in many instances, the batter is so thick it doesn't fry uniformly. Unfortunately, that was the case with C.C.'s crab; a good half-inch of batter was unappealingly half-done.

I ordered the broiled rockfish ($15.50), a huge, thick filet as moist and flavorful as any I've had. The Ocean City-style fries were fine, the blue-cheese dressing that adorned my salad had zip, and the rolls were hot. I was a happy camper, especially when our server supplied those two orders of fried eggplant.

Desserts at the Landing, like the vegetables, are all prepared in-house. We sampled chocolate mud pie ($4.95), a layered creation of chocolate mousse, chocolate ice cream, and chocolate sauce. Very dense; it should be ordered only by the chocolate-impaired. The strawberry shortcake ($2.95) proved a real bargain: Two huge squares of yellow cake were filled and topped with tons of strawberry sauce and whipped cream. Ethereal. Problem was we had to wait way too long for our desserts -- apparently, there was a problem in the kitchen. Our server was apologetic and endeared herself to me by brewing me a fresh pot of decaf.

We managed to slip out before the live music began, but if you like that sort of thing, go late and take in the band du jour. Or take advantage of the nightly specials, which include steamed shrimp (Tuesdays), steak (Wednesdays), and prime rib (Thursdays and Sundays). I'll revisit this crab house on Bear Creek over the summer to sample its steamed crabs. But in my heart, I know in I'll be going to snag more of that eggplant.

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