Friday, June 9, 2017

Mike's Crab House - Riva, MD

From a source I don't remember, I got Mike's Crab House in Riva, MD on our agenda following our visit to Annapolis. I read that Mike's offered great steamed blue crabs. Riva is on the South River tributary of Chesapeake Bay, seven miles south of Annapolis which is on the Severn River tributary of Chesapeake Bay (which is north of the Patuxent and Potomac River tributaries of Chesapeake Bay). 
Mike's has a great menu, offering mussels, oysters, cherrystone clams, soft crab, lump crab cake, scallops, shrimp, and many types of fish. 

We arrived early, shortly after 5:00 p.m.. Mike's is just off the south east side of the South River Bridge and right on the South River. It is a large place with plenty of seating, but by the time we left it was packed and people were lining the reception and waiting outside to get in. 

We started with a pretty ordinary salad bar with large-chunk potato salad being the most unusual ingredient, and it was not particularly good. But it was nice to get some greens. 

I felt like Charlie who'd won a ticked to visit Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. So much seafood variety and right off the world famous Chesapeake Bay. Judy indulged my way-too-ambitious ordering. We started with a steamed combo including mussels, oysters, cherrystone clams and large steamed shrimp. Surprisingly to me, my favorite of the combo items was the steamed shrimp, which we had to remove the shell and legs from. They were a good size and I utilized some butter to dip them in. I prefer raw oysters (which we also had), but it was fun to try them steamed. The mussels for the most part were plump and moist, but the broth was weak. Mussels can rate right up there with my favorite foods when they are accompanied with a great garlic broth and sourdough bread and butter. This was okay, nothing to get too excited about. 
We got a dozen fresh-shucked oysters for $14.95, half the price we pay in California. The oysters were stacked on ice and were large and meaty. I occasionally go to King's Fish House and part of what makes their oysters so good is the they are chilled and the shell is brimming with oyster liquor, a clear liquid inside the shell which is filtered sea water in which the oyster lives and is packed with salty flavor.  I add a slathering of cocktail which is pre-made and a perfect blend of horseradish. These oysters were not as chilled, did not have much oyster liquor and the cocktail sauce was a mix-your-own version with separate horseradish and sauce and I can never get as satisfying a mix, partly I think because the pre-made cocktail sauce usually has creamed horseradish and perhaps other ingredients in it as well. However, the oysters were still enjoyable. 

We got two soft-shell crabs which were breaded and fried and very large. The soft-shell crab is a blue crab which has just shed its old exoskeleton and is served whole, minus the mouthparts, gills and part of the abdomen. The breading was a little thicker than I would have preferred, but the crab was thick and very juicy. Very nice to eat these where they originate. 

What really set this meal apart were the six steamed blue crabs we got. They were not on the menu, but I asked about them because of the article I'd read. The server came to prep our table, removing everything and laying down a layer of thick brown paper. At that point I realized we would be making a mess. The crabs came heavily coated in what looked like a rub of some sort, along with a knife and a wooden mallet. About that time I started to notice the noise of mallets around the restaurant pounding on what I assume must have been blue crab. 
Our server showed us how to prepare the crabs. First, we pulled off all of the legs.  
Second, we turned the crab over to its under-side and looked for the space-needle shaped section of the shell and then grabbed the tip of the needle and pulled it up and back. This section functions like a door-latch on a  hotel room. Once it was dis-engaged, we could insert the knife and pry the upper half of the shell away from the lower half and separate them. Then a very interesting concoction of colors, shapes and textures confronted us.
The space-needle part of the crab is in the center of the shell.
The yellow crab "fat" is visible on several sections of the shell.  
We removed the gills, which were soft, and I figured, correctly, that the gross looking yellow substance, which looks like excrement, was actually the equivalent of lobster tomalley. In a crab it is known as crab "fat," or muster or mustard. Then it is a matter of getting into the innards of the shell chamber to get to the crab meat, like trying to remove the individual contents of niches from a crypt. It was a long, tedious process with very little meat-yield for the effort. The process speaks volumes for why crab meat is so expensive. I learned through the experience of pounding on the shell, that the mallet is primarily for the legs. I covered the front of my shirt in crab "fat" and other liquidy contents while trying to pound out the niche barriers inside the main shell. I was in serious need of a bib.  We ultimately left several of the crabs untouched. It was fun to experience the process, but we'll let someone else do the shell excavation in the future and enjoy lump crabmeat from now on. 
A section of claw that has been removed by a number of mallet whacks. 
Some hard-earned crab meat covered in crab "fat" and sitting in a small container of butter. 
It was an event-meal. One I'll remember both because of the volume and variety of seafood and because of the unique experience of dissecting and eating a blue crab. Judy was a good sport. She at least tried the soft-shell crab as it had a bite or two out of it (I ate part of what she left, although I was hitting my limit) and she did go through the process of dissecting and pounding out the blue crabs, probably doing as much or more than I did. 


  1. Great variety but mediocre preparation, methinks. It didn't hold a candle to the quality of food at Old Ebbitt Grill in Washington, D.C., which was also very crowded and serving lots of people.

    1. I agree. Both the oysters and the soft-shell crab we had at Old Ebbitt Grill were butter. But the variety of seafood, and particularly shellfish, as well as the experience of dissecting our own crabs was what made this stand out for me.

  2. I believe the two of you ate your way through half an ocean. Yum.