Picking a favorite summer food is no easy feat. After all, there are in-season fruits and veggies to select from, ice creams and frozen-yogurts abound, and any number of fresh catches landing on our docks daily. For the Delmarva seafood lover, the spring and summer months mean the return of Soft Shell Crabs – and what a glorious return it is. So what makes the soft shell so special? Well, for starters it’s one of those foods that can’t be found year-round. Each year soft shells join the ranks of our seasonal visitors, arriving in May and leaving us in September. And did we mention the soft shell sandwich is now the official state sandwich of Maryland?
There’s a number of ways to prepare soft shell crab – pan fried, deep fried, sautéed, baked, broiled – with more ways to coat, baste and the dress the beloved crustacean. While there are a number of restaurants throughout Maryland and Delaware boasting soft shells on their menus right now, not everyone does soft shells right. Too much heat and the skins burns right up, too much batter and, well, all you taste is batter. We’ve come up with a sampling of some of the best soft shell crab dishes making their debut at the beach right now…
Blacksmith Bar and Restaurant
104 Pitts Street, Berlin, MD
The latest newcomer to America’s Coolest Small Town has proven to be a defining force of “cool” in Berlin. Describing the dishes as inventive is an understatement. Chef Toby Gilbert has been taking traditional Eastern Shore dishes and turning them on their head. Take the Eastern Shore Bahn Mi for example, which adds a shot of Eastern Shore to the traditional Vietnamese sandwich with a generous slab of scrapple. When we spotted Blacksmith’s Instagram shot of a soft shell crab delivery this week, well, the soft shell crab lover in us went wild. You can expect to see us in here at least once this week to get our fix.
112933 Sunset Ave. West Ocean City, Md. 21842(Sunset Marina)
While strolling through Sunset Marina (or West Ocean City for that matter) you can’t help but gravitate towards Sunset Grille. Many people frequent the dockside bar and grille for the expansive indoor and outdoor seating, nightly live entertainment, the dockside bar, or, you guessed it, the sunset views. While we are fans of all of the above, their soft shell crab sandwich is what caught our eye most recently. Bigger isn’t always better, but in this instance, we’re partial to bigger. The two massive soft shells arrive tempura battered and tucked in a corn-dusted roll. It definitely requires two hands…or a knife and fork.
3316 Coastal Highway, Ocean City, Md. 21842(located in the 33rd St. Plaza)
When asked where the locals go, OC Wasabi is certainly one of the first names to roll off your tongue. Beyond the artfully rolled sushi is a friendly staff and enticing selection of sakes and cocktails. We would be hard pressed to pick a favorite roll, but when we’re craving soft shells, we point our chopsticks toward the Spider Roll. Each piece is overstuffed with soft shell – it’s almost too much for one bite. For a bigger soft shell indulgence, opt for the Spider’s House, which includes two soft shell crabs, battered and fried, along with a colorful variety of vegetables.
11805 Coastal Highway, Ocean City, Md. 21842
We love dining just about anywhere, from roadside picnic tables to poolside bar stools, but oftentimes we enjoy treating ourselves to the atmosphere of true fine dining. At Jule’s Fine Dining, Chef Sanders consistently delivers winning dishes, including Smith Island soft shell crab. More unique to our soft shell line-up is the cream of soft shell crab soup. Just about every seafood joint up and down the coast has their own renditions of crab soup, but it’s not often you find a cream of soft shell crab soup on the menu. At Jules, each spoonful yields chuncks of fried Smith Island soft shell crab and lump blue crabmeat. Yes, please.
9301 Coastal Highway, Ocean City, Md. 21842
At the north end of Ocean City, Liquid Assets stays true to fresh and local, from their wines to their desserts. It’s quite common for patrons to stop in for a glass of wine and a cocktail, only to find themselves tucking into a three course meal without blinking an eye. With soft shell season kicking off, we expect to see a few of those heavenly Smith Island soft shell crab specials in the works.
Fenwick Crab House
100 Coastal Highway, Fenwick Island, Del. 19944
The Fenwick Crab House prides themselves in all things crab, and that includes crab of the soft shell variety. First on the hit list are soft shell crabs provençal, a decadent dish showcasing two jumbo soft shells sautéed in a garlic herb butter and finished with diced tomatoes. For a more traditional take, there’s good old fashioned deep-fried soft shells, served with fries n’slaw. Next up, spider bites. What arrives are medium soft shell halves, bread and fried, and served with a remoulade sauce. Last, but certainly not least, the soft shell crab sliders – served on two mini, soft pretzel rolls. You’d be hard-pressed to find more soft shell options under one roof than at Fenwick Crab House.
601 Coastal Highway, Fenwick Island, Del. 19944
Tucked between Ocean City and Bethany Beach, Nantucket’s draws Marylanders and Delawareans alike with high quality seafood straight from the docks. That includes soft shells this time of year, from the soft shell entrée to the soft shell BLT. The jumbo soft crabs at Nantuckets are corn dusted, seared until crisp, and sautéed and served atop a fresh roasted corn, red pepper and cilantro relish. For a true summer sandwich, bite into a soft shell BLT. The soft shells arrive pan fried on a Kaiser bun, with applewood smoked bacon and romaine. It’s safe to say that the only thing better than soft shells are soft shells topped with bacon.
19730 Coastal Highway, Rehoboth Beach, Del.
Nage initially caught our attention with their farm-o-table specials. Every Thursday, Nage feature a Farm to Table series highlighting a different local, sustainable, and organic famer. It doesn’t get more local than that. It came as no surprise then when we heard mentions of a killer soft shell dish on special at the Rehoboth bistro and wine bar last year. The Virginia soft shells are tasty on their own, but paired with a mash of caramelized turnips and drizzled with a country ham vinaigrette is heaven. We sure hope to see this special make a comeback in 2014.