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Dec 19, 2007 06:56 AM

Crabcakes-No Fillers

I'm in search of crabcakes in the District that have little to no fillers and only uses a tad or no mayo/sour cream and egg (and not fried). Basically I'm looking for a healthy version. I know Rock Creek sometimes have them, but is there any other place in DC proper?

Also, any recommendations on which restaurants have some good versions and won't cost me half my paycheck. Thanks!

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  1. I don't know about the frying and or the no eggs (that's going to be particularly hard to find since eggs are necassary to bind everything together). But I can tell you where to get 2 of the best crab cake sandwiches in the District and not spend an insane amount of money.

    The first place to check out would be CF Folks. Their crab cake sandwich is excellent and has little filler. You can taste the crab and its great. Of course they are only open M-F for lunch, but its SO worth taking time out of the day to try it out.

    The other place where it is very good is at Market Lunch in Eastern Market. My only complaint is that their crab cake is a little small. But its quite good.

    1. To a great extent you are going to get what you pay for when it comes to lump crabmeat. With crab cakes it is not just little or no filler and a "tad of mayo/sour cream." It is also WHERE and WHAT the crabmeat comes from. The cheapest is Phillips Indonesian crabmeat which is an entirely different crustacean from the Chesapeake Bay blue crab. Restaurants that use this type of crabmeat such as G & M (which I have never really liked and continue to wonder why anyone on this and other boards have any interest in them) typically sell large to very large crab cakes where the meat itself has little taste. Or they sell medium size crab cakes at very low prices. Indonesian crabmeat does not have the typical "sweetness" that Bay crabmeat has. Locally the best restaurant crab cake is probably from the Prime Rib on K street which uses Maryland/VA/NC lump crab meat. Faidley's in the Lexington Market in Baltimore does also. In the suburbs Jerry's in Seabrook, MD (two miles outside of the Beltway near Lanham) has both lump crab cakes and the "crab bombe" which is about 14 ounces and sells for $35 or so. All of these are traditional Maryland style crab cakes. The best crab cake anywhere are from the Narrows on Kent Island. The best cream of crab soup is from Jerry's. The best crab imperial USE to be from Angelina's on Harford road in Baltimore but that has now changed since their ownership and source of crabmeat also changed. At one time, years ago, Angelina's had outstanding Maryland lump crab cakes. Their crab imperial was better. Today, Angelina's is no longer worth more than a several mile drive; at one time we drove from Reston, 55 miles away for a crab cake and imperial there and felt it was worth it. Today, the drive is from Reston to Jerry's. Stoney's on Broome Island also makes a good lump crab cake as does Suicide Bridge outside of Cambridge. Again, as for "half of your paycheck" to a great extent you are going to get what you pay for. By the way, Wegman's sells Chesapeake Bay lump crab meat for about $22 a pound which along with Maine Avenue is the best price around for "real" lump crabmeat. Costco sells Phillips for about $14. Open the two containers up side by side and taste each. you'll be surprised at how much of a difference there is. But they are two entirely different crabs.

      And, a really good crab cake is better broiled anyway.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Joe H

        Oceanaire and Vidalia have amazing crab cakes. But you'll pay for them.

        Less expensive would be CF Folks.

        1. re: Joe H

          Thanks, but I'm looking for places in the District, so please stick with advice in this area.

          Where is G &M?

        2. I think it might be harder to find a good crabcake in D.C. than you'd think.

          If you're willing to drive, I would highly recommend Timbuktu in Hanover (near Arundel Mills). They have lump crabcakes, with the lightest of binders, and deliciously broiled!

          6 Replies
          1. re: choconut

            I may be wrong, but I thought Timbuktu and G&M had the same owners? In any event, I have to agree completely with Joe H. I have no idea why people like, let along rave, about G&M 'crabcakes.' I had them once, and remember thinking that they were sure big, but they sure weren't anything I understood to be crabcakes.

            I actually don't think that there is/can be a healthy version of a crabcake. It is what it is. If you want crab w/o the calories, it would be best just to get steamed crabs, or throw some lump crab meat on a salad or something.

            1. re: baltoellen

              Had a G+M crabcake the other week for the first time in about 2 years. we got them to go- and UGGH GROSS. They were huge as usual but there was so much breading and filler it was almost like a pie! I barely ate 1/4 of it. The last time ( 2 yrs ago) I actually thought it was one of the best I had ever had...UGH this was a disaster. Never again.

              1. re: ryzaroo

                I agree. Used to like G&M, no more. My wife wants to try Timbuktu. Is that worth it?

              2. re: baltoellen

                Hi Ellen--They were owned by cousins. The Timbuktu one was very quick to say you could find pasteurized crab containers in G&M's dumpster. Timbuktu's is good, other items are plain. G&M's was like Phillips--big and tasting only of the mayo-based dressing. G&M apparently has been sold, and a gigantic two-story construction project is under way. Maybe the new owners will wipe the grease off the S&P shakers.

                1. re: chowsearch

                  I agree that G& M's crab cakes are mediocre ( but boy are they HUGE !!!)
                  I thought Timbuktu's were much better. I DO take issue with the assumption that Pasteurized crab meat is inferior.It depends where it comes from....the Pasteurized from Indonesia is great for good as fresh but much more economical. The pasteurized crab from Vietnam is softer and an inferior product. "FRESH" crab meat is extremely expensive and usually is used by very upscale resataurants ( That charge $30-$40 for crab cakes)

                  1. re: MDicecreamguy

                    I am saying that ALL crabmeat is inferior to that which comes from the Chesapeake Bay or nearby with the possible exception of the Gulf as a close second. Far Eastern and South American crab meat are from different crabs. I believe that Phillips, a Maryland bred location dating to around 1960 in Ocean City (I first went there in '63 or '64 when it was literally a crab house with 150 or so seats), is prostituting the local seafood industry by inporting what they are. Simply, they are not supporting the industry that allowed them to first open. And, what they are replacing it with is crabmeat that just does not taste as good. Kudos to Wegmans for selling local (i.e. Bay, NC) lump crab meat for $22 or so. It is a bargain for the best and I feel good about supporting the industry.

            2. I was totally unprepared to find that Houstons, of all places, has some of the best crabcakes I've ever had, they come on a dijon mustard sauce, and have no fillers that I can taste, just pure crab. They are excellent.

              1. I have to say that Chris' Marketplace crabcakes are the best I have ever had. I've talked to him about his business and I know he uses the best quality ingredients and it's practically all crab (+ his special sauce, which he will reveal to no one). He works at the Bethsda Women's Market (Wednesdays), the Penn Quarter market (Thursdays) and Dupont Circle FM Sundays. Try them out, you'll love them! Local and wonderful.

                18 Replies
                1. re: FoodieMcGee

                  I agree that Chris's and Cf Folks are the best in town, especially for value. At bit further out, check out the new Bobby's Crabcakes in Rockville, subject of another new thread here.

                  1. re: MartyL

                    Marty, can you honestly compare CF Folks' crab cakes with the Prime Rib? I had a crab cake there about three or four years ago and thought it was very good and a special value. But for me-if we are only talking about the best crab cake-I believe the Prime Rib's are superior.

                    I've read so many comments on here about filler, breading, mayonnaise, panko crumbs, etc. but a real, great Maryland lump crabcake is less about filler and more about the flavor and texture of the crab meat that goes into it. I'm suggesting there are some crab cakes (i.e. Jerry's, Narrows) where the crab cakes have so much lump, sweet crab meat that one actually isn't even AWARE of filler, etc. As for G & M it isn't even the Far Eastern crab meat-their mayonnaise is genuinely awful. There, I wish there was less mayonnaise and more binder!

                    A couple of years ago when my wife and I were spending weekends visiting Maryland crab houses (and posting our experiences on here) we found that crab meat, even in Crisfield near the packing plants was as expensive as Maine Avenue here for the exact same crab meat (which then was from Carolina-not Crisfield, curiously enough). I really believe that, to a great extent, with crab meat and crab cakes (and, by extension crab soup and crab imperial) you really do get what you pay for. Jerry's is horribly expensive considering its ambience. BUT Jerry's has fantastic cream of crab soup with several ounces of lump crab meat floating on top. The crab bombe really is 12 or 14 ounces and the lump crab cakes are succulent. All are appropriately expensive. The Prime Rib can charge for their crab cakes and use Bay area crabmeat but CF Folks cannot. I think there is a limit to what they can get there, especially considering that it's a take out lunch spot and operate within a price structure. It was good, real good, but for me-nowhere near the best in the city or area.

                    1. re: Joe H

                      Well, I'd much rather go to the former than the latter, under any circumstances. But I can't say that I've ever eaten the PR crabackes, so no, I can't really compare, except to note that the CF Folks cake is typically under $11, whereas the Prime Rib menu states that its crabcakes are $34.95 (presumably for two).

                      1. re: Joe H

                        Joe, I don't think you should compare the upscale "crabcakes" at the Prime Rib to the traditional Chesapeake Bay-style version at CF Folks. They aren't even the same food item. What the upscale places serve is far from the traditional regional specialty. People who order them there expect their money's worth - they want to see those lumps and nothing else. Except of course, the chef's new "take" on crabcakes. Mango salsa or something. That expectation is starting to trickle down. We've lost the regional specialty as "crabcakes" have spread far from the Chesapeake and everyone has gussied them up. They were the food of the common man, like BBQ, probably more appropriate to CF Folks, not white tablecoth places.
                        As little as thirty years ago or so, crabcakes weren't on menus at upper end restaurants and certainly not outside this area. Locally, lump crab was more likely served as Crab Imperial or Norfolk, crab salads or crabmeat topping fish dishes which really showed it off in the way people are looking for now when they order crabcakes. Why is that the only offering on menus?
                        Crabcakes were seafood joint food, mostly eaten on platters and sandwiches at places like the Market Inn, Phillips in OC, Faidley's or crabhouses. Even Crisfield Seafood in Silver Spring didn't have them for years from what I understand because they considered themselves a bit higher class than that. Market Inn lists two different styles of crabcakes on their menu - traditional Maryland style and some other new-fangled one - to keep everybody happy.
                        CF Folks might get local crab. I know Market Lunch does and they sell a terrific traditional crabcake sandwich for about $7 or $8, not large but great. Just because Prime Rib can charge a lot doesn't necessarily mean they're putting the money into local product. They could be buying from the Carolinas or Gulf, especially this time of year.

                        1. re: MakingSense

                          I first ate at Crisfield's in the 1950's-it was considered a cheap alternative locally to O'Donnell's and Bish Thompson's which were two of the best seafood restaurants in the D. C. area back then. All three had crab cakes and Crisfield's, then and now, were not very good.

                          Curiously, I have collected menus dating back to about then and I am looking at the menu for Busch's Chesapeake Inn which many considered to be one of Maryland's best seafood restaurants. There is no date on it but I am guessing that it is from the late '60's or so. Cream of Bay Crab soup is $ .60 and most entrees are in the $4 to 6 range. "Lump crab cakes" were $4.95. There are at least seven or eight crab preparations including Thermidor, Norfolk, Saute, Au Gratin, Smithfield Ham Saute, Flounder stuffed with crab meat (Crisfield's specialty), Imperial, Lobster stuffed with crab imperial, etc. Crab cakes are highlighted as a specialty on the menu.

                          I believe that crab cakes have been a standard in Maryland and DC area seafood restaurants dating back at least 50 or more years. Many of these seafood restaurants, such as Busch's (on route 50 in Annapolis then), were "white table cloth." You may be right about their origin but I would take this back a hundred or more years-not 30.

                          I also have a Phillips menu from back then. They, similar to Busch's, included Thermidor, Smithfield, Au Gratin, etc. Imperial is listed as "the house specialty." Most interesting is this on the bottom of one page:

                          "Most of our seafoods are brought in daily from our two seafood packing plants on the Chesapeake Bay to assure the utmost in freshness and quality."

                          Today, Phillips importing so much Pacific Rim seafood, is crippling the local crabbing industry.

                          1. re: Joe H

                            My family was Inolved in the restaurant/bar business till about 1970...I remember keeping fried crabcakes behind the bar with the hard boiled eggs , the pickled pig knuckles ant the whiloe pickled white onions. Crabcakes went for about $. 25 apiece, everything else was about a nickel. CXrabcakes were a mix of claw and regular crabmeat , deep fried and eaten with crackers...

                            1. re: Joe H

                              I'm pretty sure that Faidley's didn't start selling crabcakes until the 1970s, and when they were first sold, Faidley's thought that they were too expensive to ever take off. I'm not sure what the price was in 1970s dollars, though.

                              1. re: Joe H

                                Thanks for the information, Joe. I'm delighted to be wrong about the dating but these are still seafood restaurants. Were they on regular white tablecloth restaurant menus? I didn't move to DC until the early 70s and even then, the crabcake, in my memory, was a seafood restaurant item, from joints to upper end seafood places. You didn't find it at places like Lion d'Or, Cantina D'Italia, Jean-Pierre or Le Bagatelle. I think the Jockey Club, The Palm, some hotel restaurants and private clubs might have had it.
                                My memory is that the crabcakes of that era were still the traditional variety not the type found on so many restaurant menus today. Nor are most of today's crabcake anything like that traditional crabcake as it has spread far from its roots in the Chesapeake Bay.

                                The second thing of note is that the other Chesapeake area dishes have all but disappeared except in private homes or in a few restaurants that specialize in regional cooking. Why? Perhaps so many people are familiar only with the ubiquitous crabcake that restaurants just don't offer the others. It seems they would be ripe for revival with the interest in local and regional sourcing and traditional foods. This is an area steeped in food history going back 400 years and we certainly have the talented chefs to make that happen.

                                I share your disappointment with Phillips' operation but as long as the public thinks that a crabcake is not much more than lumps of warm crabmeat with various seasonings, they'll be able to sell as much as they can import. Crabmeat deserves more respect.

                                1. re: Joe H

                                  Collecting old menus--what an interesting hobby. Is Busch's Chesapeake Inn still around?

                                  1. re: Mister Big

                                    I have about 4 or 500 to suppliment my matchbook collection! With my having travelled heavily on business since the early '80's throughout the U. S. and Europe it's fascinating to go back and look at some of them. Busch's Chesapeake Inn had a fire sometime in the '70's and when it reopened I never thought it was as good as before. Eventually it closed. Busch's was the first restaurant that I ever ate in where each table (even it there was only one diner) was given a plate with a full stick of butter accompanying the rolls-which included rum buns, then, a Maryland tradition in seafood houses. (Bish Thompson's in the '60's had the best with O'Donnell's a close second; curiously, then, they were two blocks apart on Wisconsin avenue in Bethesda.)

                                    MakingSense, we agree that restaurants such as the ones you mention did not have crab cakes, certainly not traditional Maryland crab cakes. But the better seafood restaurants here did in the '50's and '60's-they were a standard. Baltimore's Chesapeake and Thompson's Sea Girt House had crab cakes then as did Haussner's. In D. C., arguably, O'Donnell's on PA Avenue near the Warner probably was given credit for D. C.'s best seafood restaurant. Over time, variations on Maryland crab cakes in better restaurants around the country (and here) began to appear so that "traditional Maryland style crab cakes" started taking different forms, if you will. I think a lot of places thought they could improve on the crab cake, thus their "spin" on it. Even Charleston, today, serves a non-traditional Maryland style crab cake. The old Frog and the Redneck in Richmond under Jimmy Sneed had a great take on crab cakes that I still miss. The first time I tasted this was at Windows on Urbanna Creek (sp?) where he worked between Jean Louis and the Richmond restaurant.

                                    Still, crab cakes were ubiquitous in Maryland seafood restaurants in the '50's and '60's. They were simply standard menu items. And, yes you are right-I do not remember seeing them in any "white table cloth" restaurant. I remember my first crab cake at the Anchor Inn when Glenmont was literally farmland in the late '50's. In truth, earlier, the Anchor Inn (like Phillips and so many other places) had started as a crab house and graduated into a full service seafood restaurant.

                                    Anyway, for whatever reason, today crab cakes under a number of guises are all over the country. My wife is obsessed with crab cakes and we've had them seemingly everywhere. None are as good as the best here. In fact it is because of her that from time to time we make a pilgramage from Reston to Seabrook for Jerry's. I also cannot drive down 50 on the Eastern Shore without stopping at the Narrows for her. I should note that while she disagrees with me on most everything else (!) we do agree on crab cakes and who has the best.

                                    Really interesting topic to discuss what happened to certain dishes that most better seafood restaurants featured back then: what DID happen to, say "Crab, Norfolk style" or "crab Thermidor" or "crab with Smithfield ham?" I think part of the problem is the cost of lump crab meat: it's genuinely expensive to use much of it similar to, say, lobster. I'm guessing that crab is not thought of in the same way as lobster, as a dish for indulgence that can justify the cost if that good. So many posts on here, even the one which started this thread notes that "I do not want to spend an arm or a leg" or something to that effect. A lot of people will go to Jerry's and complain that it is really expensive for what it is. And, it is! But I believe that it has to be to continue to serve what they do.

                                    My guess is that over time the many Maryland seafood dishes have "thinned out" with only a few "standards" remaining. The implication may be that we have lost something with so many "classic" dishes no longer being widely available. (Thank you, again, for could be a great separate topic that I'm sure a lot of people will have opinions on.)

                                    For myself, the closest thing today to a better Maryland seafood restaurant from the '50's or '60's, Jerry's aside, is Suicide Bridge in Hurlock outside of Cambridge. In addition to the standards they also have very good side dishes which were kind of a hallmark from back then.

                                    As I type this, however, I really can't remember the last time I had a great rum bun. I wonder if O'Donnell's in Kentland still serves them? For that matter, I haven't been to O'Donnell's anywhere in a couple of decades...

                                    Thanks again, MakingSense.

                                    1. re: Joe H

                                      As in Charleston, a non-traditional Maryland-style crabcake has supplanted New Orleans' traditional crab chop and stuffed crabs that were on every menu in that city since time immemorial. Those dishes have disappeared except for private homes and real old-school places. Tourists wanted them and then the general restaurant goers expected that. Many of the other traditional New Orleans crabmeat dishes are rarely seen any longer and this has happened generally along the Gulf Coast.
                                      I keep hoping that some of the talented new chefs will bring back some of these wonderful regional specialties with high quality fresh, local products. In the right hands, they'll be showstoppers. If they make these dishes fashionable again, it would make a difference since they don't use any more crabmeat than crabcakes.
                                      Maybe you'll even get your rum buns. Where did they go? Everybody in town loved those!

                                      You are right, Joe, that the expectation of inexpensive seafood is unrealistic. If Wegman's sells lump for $22, a 5 oz. portion costs $6.88. Do most restaurants use a 3x the cost of the food as a rule of thumb for pricing? That would be $20.64 (if they paid that same price.) Heck, most crabcakes may be a bargain.
                                      All seafood is expensive. It may be that people are only willing to pay for the varieties they see as high value, like crab, lobster, sushi, diver scallops, certain kinds of oysters, etc. Things they can't get themselves or don't know how to cook.
                                      Perhaps that's why they look at the traditional crabcake which uses bread crumbs or saltines for binding as an inferior product. That is somehow cheating them yet they don't view onion, red pepper or other inclusions the same way, even though by weight and/or volume they're much greater.

                                      1. re: MakingSense

                                        New Orleans!!! One of the menus that I have is from K-Paul's, the year that it opened, when "blackened redfish" was $8.95. Totally agree with your insightful comments about chefs bringing back what could be "showstoppers." There is much that was, well, just really delicious years ago that today could be just as good or better today. Or, reinterpreted as a contemporary dish. I would love to see Bob Kinkead or Jeff Black (who is from Houston, by the way) do a contemporary take on several Maryland specialties. I really believe that is one of the values of a thread like this: several who read this may be in a position to take an idea or two and run with it. Perhaps, a D. C. or Baltimore area restaurant can come up with a "contemporary crab Norfolk style" or an interpretative "crab Thermidor."

                                        Thanks, also, to Ellen for her comments. I am jealous, however, that you'll be at the Narrows tomorrow!

                                        1. re: Joe H

                                          This is such a wonderful sub-thread -- I didn't think I really cared much about crabcakes, but this is fascinating. Thanks you all!

                                          1. re: mselectra

                                            Maybe you haven't cared very much because most crabcakes are boring. Many people rate them by the amount of lump crabmeat. If that's all that counts, just go buy a pound of crabmeat and grab a fork.
                                            Some of the forgotten crabmeat specialties really highlighted the flavor and made a wonderful seafood treat even more wonderful.

                                      2. re: Joe H

                                        I usually make my own but I''ll be driving by the Narrows on my way back from Cape May tomorrow. I think I'll stop for lunch. Their crab cakes are excellent. I had lovely Cape May Salts for lunch today. Tasted like they just came out of the water. Another reason why eating local is vastly superior to anything else. Unfortunately its getting harder to do. I also miss seeing Lobster Thermidor on menus. What a wonderful dish. And seafood Newburg too.

                                        1. re: Joe H

                                          O'Donnell's still has rum buns and also a selection of Norfolk-style seafood.

                                          1. re: wookyluvr

                                            Thank you, wookyluvr, it is just a matter of time (hours?) until we drive from Reston to Kentlands to rediscover a taste of my past. Much appreciated.

                                            For those reading this thread I've had several posts in past years recounting adventures of ours' searching for Maryland style seafood and crab cakes. If you haven't seen these you may find them interesting and/or relevant to this thread:

                                            Suicide Bridge: Crab Cakes To Die For

                                            I should note that on the above thread one of the restaurants I discuss, Captain's Galley in Crisfield, is now closed. They still have an outpost in West Ocean City serving the same food.

                                            The Great Crab Quest of '04

                                            On this thread I take the position that the single best, most atmospheric and special crab house in the entire state of Maryland is NOT Cantler's but rather, Waterman's in Rock Hall. As I type this it is late December and snow is forecast for next week. When Spring returns I will proudly be sitting on the deck over the Bay, looking at the Bay Bridge in the distance and crooning to some MoTown while munching on a lump of backfin. At Waterman's.

                                            1. re: Joe H

                                              Enjoy! We live near the Kentlands, and go to O'Donnell's occasionally. Rum buns are a guilty pleasure! And I really enjoy the Norfolk-style shellfish. I don't know how it compares to your memories of the old-style dishes, but I enjoy O'Donnell's. It seems to always get bad press when it's mentioned on chowhound, so I don't bring it up much, but we have decent meals there.