Feast Your Eyes
Seeking the Golden Crab Cake
The very first sign that all the folks who insist G&M Restaurant has the best crab cakes in Baltimore might be genuinely onto something was the line of cars waiting just to get into the parking lot. Judging further by the line of people waiting patiently outside the front door, it was clear that we were not in possession of any secret insider best-crab-cake knowledge, no, sirree.
There were, in fact, people waiting everywhere: outside the restaurant, perched on picnic tables in the G&M Carryout (located next door, for those who can't wait as long for their cakes), and in the smokehouse--er, I mean lounge. Inside, the G&M was densely packed with tables; bustling waitresses wove in between, carrying plates loaded with strikingly large, golden, and lumpy-looking crab cakes. When the hostess told us we'd have to wait 45 minutes to an hour for a table, there was no need to talk it over. I wasn't the only one thinking, Goodness sakes, look at those cakes!
So we settled into the smoggy lounge, ordered a round of beers, and tried to not stare too openly at the food arriving at nearby tables. There was a good-looking, mussel-bedecked seafood marinara ($17.95); a very attractive bowl of Maryland crab soup; and, sigh, those gorgeous golden orbs. A burly gentleman sporting a mullet haircut and a festivus maximus sweatshirt caught me staring with open lust at his double crab cake platter and glared back a wordless but unmistakable message: Get your own goddamn dinner.
An hour came and went. Our bar tab mounted. Starting time for the movie we'd planned to see drew close. After we established that our party was still several names away from the top of the list, and once the hostess had reassured everyone that if we came back later there would still be plenty of crab to go around, we went. I can only speak for myself, but I know I spent approximately half the film's running time thinking about giant, glistening crab cakes, fresh from the broiler. When we returned, we got a table right away--the crowd thins around 9 p.m. or so.
Pretty much everything at the G&M comes with a tossed salad, two vegetables, tea or coffee, and some lovely big, light puffball rolls. The mixed iceberg salads were what you'd expect, and the sides varied between tangy, crunchy treats--homemade pickled beets and coleslaw--and bland, overcooked-for-your-protection corn and vegetable medley. G&M is the kind of eating house where side dishes come in small bowls, each set atop a white paper doily on its own little plate, and I was charmed beyond reason by this touch from times of yore. The menu is as old-school as the presentation: crab imperial, clams casino (a special, $5.95), and surf & turf (lobster tail and filet mignon, $32.95) or--for those on a budget--land & sea (New York strip and a crab cake, $18.95).
The crab imperial ($19.95) was terrific--jumbo lumps of backfin crab enfolded in a satiny sauce and broiled to a dark caramel color. The generous serving, with a wonderfully sharp note of mustard, overflowed a sizeable oval salver; despite being shared around the table, half the crab imperial was left over at the end of the meal.
A dish I last enjoyed when Carter was in the White House, broiled flounder stuffed with crabmeat ($20.95), was also very good. A surprisingly thick flounder steak was wrapped around a munificent mound of seasoned crab, and then the whole thing was broiled in a buttery, paprika-spiked sauce: moist, flaky seafood, subtly flavored and très riche.
Although most of G&M's fare is seafood, two wildcard selections, sour beef and dumplings ($10.50) and spinach manicotti (a special, $9.95), were solid and satisfying. The mountain of sour beef (cooked in a sweet but sharp gravy) was dwarfed only by the remarkably light and fluffy dumplings; this is the best sour beef I've had in a while. The manicotti were as good as anything sold over on Albemarle Street, the Little Italy war-horse elevated by smooth, verdant chopped-spinach-and-ricotta filling and sprightly, fresh-tasting marinara sauce.
And, oh yeah, the crab cakes. Sigh. I wish there were a happier ending to this tale. The cakes (single platter, $14.95, double platter $19.95) looked so bodaciously bulky and lusciously lumpy when paraded around the dining room, but when at last on our very own table they turned out to be dry and rather flavorless. Though gloriously packed with backfin and held together with the lightest of binders, they appeared to have spent too much time under the broiler, and there was nary a hint of Old Bay or other spice to enhance the subtle ocean savor of crab. A genuine letdown.
So. Longing, anticipation, and heartbreak, all in one evening, all at the hands of the G&M crab cake. Kinda like the opera, only with beer.
Share your favorite crab cake: dishthis@ hotmail.com.