S is for Seafood
Gunning's Crab House · Gunning's Seafood Restaurant · Faidley's Seafood · Legal Sea Foods · John Steven Ltd. · Anne Arundel Seafood · G&M Restaurant · Mo's Fisherman's Exchange · Bill's Terrace Inn · Bay Caf
We have a family tradition: Every New Year's Eve, we do an early lunch at Faidley's Seafood (Lexington Market,  727-4898). We soak up the atmosphere--the thick, wooden tables, the aroma of fresh fish, the crowds huddled around the raw bar slurping oysters and calling for beer refills. Dining here is standing-only, but after waiting in the cafeteria-style line to place your order, you're so hungry you won't care about having to eat on your feet. Faidley's has done business this way for more than a hundred years, and when you sample its famous crab cakes, luscious cream-of-crab soup, or fried, broiled, or steamed seafood specialties, you'll understand why.
Legal Sea Foods (100 E. Pratt St.,  332-7360) may be part of a restaurant chain (based in Boston), but these folks know what they're doing. The kitchen starts with extraordinarily fresh, high-quality seafood and then treats it right, from simple steaming or wood grilling to employing elaborate sauces that enhance the fish or shellfish without covering up its delicate flavor. LSF sports an intelligent, East Coast-focused menu with only one yawning gap: The luscious jumbo-lump crab cakes are only available in appetizer size.
The menu at John Steven Ltd. (1800 Thames St., (410) 327-5561) is eclectic and broad, the kind that satisfies just about every eaters' needs. The need that takes us back time and again is the need for sushi. A far cry from its specialty sushi-shop competition, the offerings here amount to a limited array of mostly rolls, but they're fresh and they take the edge off a major sushi hankering when there's no other help in sight. And we've always preferred John Steven's straightforward mussels better than the more famous fancy-schmancy ones a few blocks away.
Anne Arundel Seafood (230 Mountain Road, Pasadena,  255-3344) is kind of an anomaly among seafood restaurants: It's totally utilitarian, totally unpretentious, and totally cheap. This is the kind of place highway workers hitch up their pants and head to for lunch; where customers order at the counter, are summoned by loudspeaker to pick up their food, eat at wooden picnic tables, and wipe up with paper towels off the roll. Every last crab, shrimp, and scallop is fresh as can be, and the efficient counter/steamer/ fryer staff should get a collective honorary Ph.D. in seafood preparation. Go already.
If you show up at G&M Restaurant (804 N. Hammonds Ferry Road, Linthicum,  636-1777) during a peak dining hour, you might have to wait outside to get in. And it is safe to assume that most of the folks in line with you will have visions of crab cakes dancing in their heads. People flock to this plain and rather bland-looking eatery for crab cakes that are plain and, you might say, rather bland. But the suckers are huge, chock-full of crustacean meat, and held together with just the right amount of filler. If you opt for the two-cake platter, one is bound to accompany you home in a doggy bag.
You may have a favorite Fisherman's location; ours is Mo's Fisherman's Exchange (2025 E. Joppa Road,  665-8800), tucked into a Parkville strip mall. As you park, observe the stream of diners exiting with Styrofoam containers. How do the owners manage to sell so much seafood so reasonably? The fried-seafood platter lasted a friend of ours three days after she ate her fill at dinner. The salads are fresh, the house pepper-parmesan dressing is a standout, and the specials give you big bang for your bucks. The menu extends to beef and some pastas, but there's no reason to stray from the marine biology.
Bill's Terrace Inn (200 Eastern Ave., Essex,  687-5994) sits off the well-beaten track of touristy crab houses. But it boasts huge, heavy crabs year-round (not to mention mammoth shrimp), seasoned with zingy homemade spices, served up in bustling, family-filled dining room--and its menu also includes enough options to satisfy any crustacean-phobic dinner companions. Bill's also includes a cozy adjacent bar, in case you're inclined to work off those hard shells with a pitcher of beer and a game of pool.
Sure, Canton's Bay Café (2809 Boston St.,  522-3377) is where many young Baltimoreans go to meet Mr. or Ms. Right (or Mr. or Ms. Right Now). But as far as we're concerned the best dish at this waterfront watering hole is the shrimp salad, a delicious mound (a one-pound mound!) of fat, steamed crustaceans lightly doused with mayo, dusted with spice, and piled optimistically onto a bun. The rest of the crowd here can swim with the sharks; we'll settle for the shrimp, thanks.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201