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Baltimore: A Tale of Three Crabcakes

After asking about “best crabcakes, etc’ in this thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/620940
, here’s the report back:

I ate crabcakes at three places: Duda’s, Obrycki’s, and Faidley’s.

Duda’s was number one by a considerable margin -- possibly the best crabcake I've ever had. Plentiful large chunks of sweet and tasty crab meat; minimal filler; good seasoning. Pan-fried rather than deep-fried at my request. Very nice location in the good part of Fell’s Point. I noticed that you don’t have to walk more than a few blocks north before the neighborhood gets ratty. Which brings us to #2:

Obrycki’s: Again, great quality crab meat; just not as tasty a cake as what I had at Duda’s. It was fun watching the people at neighboring tables cracking piles of crabs, but that’s too much work for me. Incredibly crummy neighborhood – half a block from the projects. Guard standing outside is probably a necessary fixture. Speaking of crummy neighborhoods………

Faidley’s: This was on my last day, before a late afternoon flight (which turned into evening, but that’s another story). Definitely the poorest of the three -- I’ve had better crabcakes on the west coast. Too much crumb filler; WAY too much mayo; just-OK flavor. The crab itself was good quality. Also had the cream of crab soup, which was mediocre. Having seen some reports of inconsistency, I’m wondering if I just hit them on a bad day. I had been pretty excited about going to Lexington Market, but it turned out to be a disappointment overall. Lots of fried things I didn’t want to eat, plus mediocre produce. Didn’t care for Berger’s cookies, either. Atmosphere was by far the worst of any public market I’ve been to. Pike Place or St. Lawrence Market this is not.

I ended up wishing I had gone back to Duda’s that day instead of trying out Faidley’s (especially considering my delayed flight!) On the other hand, while standing at the Faidley’s “eating table”, I did meet a fellow ‘hound who had attended the same convention I was in town for. We took a walk around the west market (more of the same fried-food stands) and had a very interesting chat about the difficulties of dining out with non-hounds.

BTW, Duda's were panfried on request; Obrycki's were broiled on request, and Faidley's were done in their usual fried method. Apologies for having started eating the Duda's cakes before taking the photo.

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  1. I couldn't agree more about Duda's and have never understood the fascination with Faidley's at all.

    1 Reply
    1. re: hon

      Faidley's crabcakes are about 100 times better than Duda's. You can get a Duda's style crabcake virtually anywhere in Maryland...or even Delaware. Faidley's crabcake's taste is unique and exquisite. A true classic.

    2. I've always found Faidley's to be too gummy from the mashed up saltines. But I understand the fascination because of the Baltimore ambience. I guess I have a different notion of what constitutes a crummy neighborhood.

      Though I must admit that I look at real estate listings differently than in my pre-Chowhound days. Before I used to say to myself "Who would want to live there?" Now I say, "Wow, that's near Little Ethiopia!"

      1. Agreed on Duda's being fantastic. I haven't been in about a year due to being treated like a dirty bum who had come in off the street looking for free food, but this thread has convinced me to give them my business once again!

        1. Great review. Just wondering: Did you have the expensive, jumbo lump crabcake at Faidley's?

          1 Reply
          1. re: baltoellen

            Thanks. Yes, that was the jumbo lump crabcake.

          2. Were you the guy that ducked into Broadway Liquors to ask for directions to Obrycki's?

            I live walking distance from Obrycki's, and am having trouble figuring out where these projects are half a block away.

            8 Replies
            1. re: Hal Laurent

              West of Broadway on Pratt, los projectos are within a block! If the OP were walking from Harbor East, I could understand how one would take a poor route to Obrycki's.

              1. re: Hal Laurent

                Not me -- I was in a cab. IIRC the projects were about half a block west on the south side of Pratt. I could be wrong -- maybe it was an Eastern Bloc-styled apartment complex that just _looked_ like projects.

                1. re: Steve Green

                  Yes, there are projects on the other side of Broadway. That's hardly half a block from Obrycki's.

                  1. re: Hal Laurent

                    ...and, not to get too bogged down in a discussion of demographics and geography in Baltimore, but one block from Obrycki's, there are $750k townhouses!

                    And, after reading the post again, I'm sort of amazed that Lexington Mkt would be compared to Pike Place Market. Two very different places serving very different type of people. But, give me Lexington any day!

                    1. re: Hal Laurent

                      I know what he is talking about and they are 2 blocks west on Pratt Street, go several blocks east on Pratt Street and you get into a much nicer neighborhood.

                      1. re: Hal Laurent

                        Doesn't Faidley broil their crabcakes?

                        Everyone is entitled to their opinon and no one says you must like Faidley's, or even the type of food or atmosphere offered at Lexington Market, but I feel to call the market "total trash" is a little over the top. We can tear down the harbor, harbor east, fells point, canton, etc. and put up new buidlings, but this is not the face of the majority of the city. Some might be afraid of the realities of Baltimore, but I find it inspiring that so many good establishments are able to prosper in their respective environments around the city. In my opinion, Lexington Market is far more representative of Baltimore than, say, south Fells Point.

                        I was just at St. Lawrence Market this past Thursday and Saturday and there were things I missed from Lexington Market and the JFX Market, although they did have many other different things to offer there. Just like most markets, the average stand at St Lawrence was mediocre and overpriced, with some gems scattered about.

                          1. re: bmorecupcake

                            Bmorecupcake said:

                            “….Just like most markets, the average stand at St Lawrence was mediocre and overpriced, with some gems scattered about.”

                            Sorry, but I don’t agree. When I was in Toronto last fall, I wished there had been a fridge in my hotel room – I would hardly have needed to go out to eat all week, with the huge variety of excellent food I could have collected at SLM. There was a fridge in my room in Baltimore, but I really didn’t find anything being offered at Lexington that looked appealing enough to buy and eat later. Like I first said, mostly fried foods, and not very appetizing ones at that. Sure, all markets have some mediocre stands, but mediocre seemed to me to be the norm at Lexington.

                            Maybe Pike Place wasn’t such a good example, as it seems to attract mostly tourists these days. So let’s take another example: Farmers Market in Los Angeles (Fairfax district).: It’s not just for tourists -- many locals go there for the large variety of excellent food stands, offering everything from pizza to fresh-squeezed juices, to Mexican, Brazilian BBQ, Cajun food, great English toffee, and on and on. Or if that’s too “upscale” for you (it isn’t upscale at all, really), how about Grand Central Market, also in L.A. More like Lexington in that it’s uh, less upscale, for lack of a better phrase. Still, lots more diverse and interesting things to eat and buy there than at Lexington. Far better produce stands as well.

                            BTW, I could have ordered the crabcake broiled at Faidley’s, or ordered a backfin cake, but I doubt that either option would have been much better, in that it would probably still have had too much mayo and filler.

                    2. I work 2 blocks from Lex. Mkt. I've walked through the place at least a dozen times and nothing has EVER looked good enough to eat there. The place is really the pits!
                      And Faidley's?...give me a break. All one has to do is look at the prices they charge for their "fresh" fish and lobsters. They're outrageous. $16.99/lb for lobster when Wegmans is selling them for $7.99...tear the whole thing down and plant an outdoor garden in it's place. The entire neighborhood would be better served. IMHO of course.

                      8 Replies
                      1. re: michael4ny

                        I couldn't have said it any better....the place is total trash. I understand how it USED to be a Baltimore landmark but times change.

                        1. re: abovethewaves

                          This is fascinating. Really. Everyone I know, and everyone who's ever visited me that I've taken there (and I take almost all my guests there) have loved the "scene" and the food, from fried gizzards at Park's to Mary Mervis' shrimp salad, to a Pollock Johnny, and to, yes, Berger cookies for dessert.

                          But, not every place is for everyone, which is what makes eating (and life) interesting.

                          1. re: baltoellen

                            I too work two blocks from Lex Mkt and have done so for 36 years. In the 70s until the mid 80s there was some interesting, even very good stuff there. Does anyone remember the burrito man? No longer; the only interesting food that's left is the central Am place on the Eutaw St side of the East mkt. I once ate lunch there several times a week and now its twicw a month. The only thing I would eat at Faidley's is raw arsters

                            1. re: tartuffe

                              I do remember the burrito man, good stuff!

                              1. re: hon

                                Didn't the burrito man run Pancho's on the west side of the market? IMO the market has seen better days, but is still worth as occasional visit.

                            2. re: baltoellen

                              Baltoellen said:
                              “…… But, not every place is for everyone, which is what makes eating (and life) interesting.”

                              That’s for sure. The “scene”, as you put it, is certainly not for me. Fried gizzards? No thank you. I sure won’t be going back. Lexington Market may be more representative of the “real” Baltimore, but don’t you think south Fell’s Point, for example, is a much more pleasant place?

                              1. re: Steve Green

                                I live withing walking distance of south Fells Point. And, it's fine, but I definitely preferred it when it had some, um, grit to it. BTW, I host many foreign travelers, and almost to a person, people later mentioned something about how fun their visit to LM was, and not how precious Fells Point is.

                                Again, like food, where you visit and what you like is a matter of taste.

                                1. re: baltoellen

                                  I have brought a number of my English cousins to Lexington market over the years, and all of them did comment on how it showed them a taste of the US that they regularly saw on television programs but were, as one admitted, a bit disappointed not to see in the drive through the suburbs from the airport.

                                  International visitors are often surprised to see how normal the US is after spending years watching American movies and television shows. A goodly portion of the rest of the world does think everyone in the US lives in either a gated enclave in Beverly Hills, a posh NYC loft, or in the most depraved, crime-ridden urban neighborhood.

                        2. The one time I went to Duda's I found the texture and quality to be really good but it was way over seasoned. It tasted like a salt lick.

                          Faidley's has gone to hell, much as I hate to say it. Used to be great. Now it's just terrible.

                          Haven't had Obrycki's crab cake and haven't been there at all for like 15 years.

                          My favorite crab cake (not that I have them too often) is Pappa's. It's really really good. In fact, Pappa's in general is a lot better than it needs to be.

                          19 Replies
                            1. re: baltoellen

                              On Taylor ave up in Parkville (near Towson). It's a weird place. There's a dining room that's filled with old folks and a sports bar that we always sit in. The vegetable sides are thoughtless but everything else we've had has been absolutely delicious. Plus the beer is coooooold.

                              1. re: kukubura

                                Thanks. Actually supposed to meet friends at Jerry D's tonight (really!), but since Pappa's is in same area, I'll suggest that we try that. Am very excited!

                                1. re: baltoellen

                                  Pappa's is at the corner of Oakleigh Road and Taylor Avenue more towards Hillendale/Loch Raven Village. I haven't been to Jerry D's in a while but heard from friends that the food has really gone down hill. My parents really like Pappas!

                                  1. re: hon

                                    Pappas is really interesting. The DR is packed until 8:12 PM and then completely empties. The CC is pretty good, and affordable, what most people order, but the servers readily admit they're pasteurized from far away. Wonder what they could do with fresh?

                                    1. re: chowsearch

                                      Funny, I read their carry-out menu, and they talked about their "Colossal Jumbo Lump" crabcakes, which I always think of as a Phillip's "crab" designation!

                                      1. re: baltoellen

                                        I had the crabcakes at Pappas...once. But for this weekend's party, it's two big trays of Faidley's crab balls, equivalent to their lowest level of crabcake choices. Wonder how the original poster would've done with broiled Faidley's backfin, the second from the top level, maybe better tasting than the jumbo. Neither should be ordered fried...from the same fryer as the fish sandwiches. And I'm looking forward to rubbing elbows with my fellow local denizens at Lexington Market.

                                        1. re: baltoellen

                                          "Colossal Lump" definitely indicates Asian crab meat. Beware.

                                          The place's name is Pappas, not Pappa's, btw (no apostrophe between the a and the s).

                                    2. re: baltoellen

                                      Fun! Definitely post your thoughts.

                                      1. re: baltoellen

                                        Ellen...did you go to Pappas? I went once and it was really a throwback...I could easily see my parents taking me there years ago. And I really loved the crabcake! More good news, their package store is open on Sunday!

                                        1. re: crosby_p

                                          I didn't make it. The "colossal jumbo lump" crab cake classification (and try saying that 3x fast!) scared me off. Maybe one day...

                                          1. re: baltoellen

                                            Bummer. It's worth a try. Although I am disappointed to find out about the source of the crab meat. But it really is good.

                                            1. re: kukubura

                                              Now I sort as feel as though I need to take one for the team! :-)

                                              1. re: baltoellen

                                                It's very good if your level of experience with great Maryland crabcakes is fulfilled by it. they're nicely put together with a buttery-mayoey dressing. But if one had been to a number of places where the art is practiced with great attention and the Narrow differences between crab sources are not lost on you, your final determination might vary.

                                                1. re: chowsearch

                                                  You know, I was out in suburbia today, and passed a bunch of chain restaurants that I've never set foot in. And, weirdly, I thought well maybe I should try them sometimes, the same way I sometimes think that I should force myself to watch a show like American Idol or Survivor, just so I know what people are talking about/exposed to. But, then again, maybe I won't.

                                                  I've got to admit that Pappas does have me a tad bit curious.

                                                  1. re: baltoellen

                                                    About the same kitsch and charm of Eastern House, a notch below on food, go to satisfy your curiousity, but just split a couple things and drink in the Baltimore vibe. Once.

                                                    1. re: baltoellen

                                                      This is not a "take one for the team" situation. It's a good, local Maryland restaurant. Having eaten at a couple of the other similar places nearby (Crackpot, Perring) it's the best of the bunch by a long shot.

                                                      I'd like to know which are the places where "the art is practiced with great attention." The Pappas crabcake is absolutely delicious and is far, far better than any other I've had recently, better than Duda's and Faidley's for sure. That opinion is shared by everyone else I've been there with. Is it the best in the state? Probably not. But they have no reason to be embarrassed about it (except maybe the crab source, which unfortunately is hardly unique to Pappas)

                                                      1. re: kukubura

                                                        I think the capital 'N' in 'Narrow' was a hint. ;)

                                  2. Not the most traditional presentation, but I think the cake at Jack's Bistro is amazing.

                                    1. Lexington can be a lot of fun on Saturday afternoons when they have live music. I know that from experience, since I"ve played there a few times.

                                      I haven't had Faidley's crab cakes (and I'm not much of a crab cake fan), but I love their raw bar. I've been meaning to check out their fried fish sandwich.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: 4X4

                                        The fried fish sandwich is amazing. I go for it every time these days.

                                      2. We spent a few days in Baltimore on business last week, and I walked up to the Lexington Market every day to pick something up for lunch. Had Faidley's crabcakes twice. I agree with everything everyone says--that's possible because their product is wildly inconsistent. Last year, we had their crabcakes and found them to be gummy and bland. This year, the first ones we had were the epitome of what a crabcake is supposed to be, in both flavor and texture. A few days later, not quite up to that level, but still good.

                                        The best of all was what I ordered at the Prime Rib. The gold standard, IMO.

                                        Back to the Lex. Market: I also ordered oysters on the halfshell at Faidley's raw bar. They had primes in last week, and they were magnificent. Now for the bad part: while I was enjoying my oysters and taking in the friendly frenetic activity around me, I got aggressively panhandled by a woman who, judging from the comments of regulars who were standing nearby, know her as someone who works that area all the time., and who places her hands on people who ignore her. There was no security anywhere in sight.

                                        12 Replies
                                        1. re: albinoni

                                          Give her a dollar and she'll leave you alone. Just figure it into the overall cost of your exquisite crab cake and oyster lunch. It doesn't get much better than that, does it? I might just be lucky, but I've never had even a slightly inferior crab cake at Faidley's. I suppose it happens, it just hasn't happened to me.

                                          1. re: flavrmeistr

                                            This is the weekend that I was compelled to admit I am a crabcake snob. I sell antiques and for many years have sold at the Convention center in Baltimore around labor day weekend. My wife and I have always welcomed the opportunity to give advice to customers and other dealers about our favorite places to eat in town and frequently the topic is crab, crab cakes, etc.

                                            This weekend was a little out of the ordinary since we had a special serving piece in our inventory we called a Delmarva server. We had just acquired it and coined the name because of two special features. The piece was sterling, about 10" inches in length and was a form of tong (like sugar tongs) with a three dimensional chicken foot on one side and a small spatula on the other side. On the back of the spatula was engraved a blue crab. The maker was local to Baltimore and the handles were repouseed. We had never seen another and were not surprised when soon after opening a midwestern dealer who specilizes in silver spotted it and quickly purchased it.

                                            We joked with him about how we had named it and he recounted his numerous fond experiences in Baltimore restaurants were he and a friend consistently rated thier crabcake finds in the 8.25 to 10 range while lamenting that crabcakes in other towns he routinely rated 2 to 4. I was at a loss to add a recommendation to his inventory and thought to myself that I would be wasting my breath to tell him that the best crabcakes are made by you and fried in a pan.

                                            When did it become the norm (G&M era?) for crabcakes to be a mound of backfin lump put together with some form of egg binder and barely cooked through under a broiler to be the standard for restaurant crabcakes in Baltimore? It is so much the norm that it is practically impossible for out of towners(or even Baltimoreans) to imagine that a crabcake could be anything else.

                                            On the other hand what point would there be to tell my fellow dealer what he is missing when he obviously enjoys so much what he has?

                                            By the way I gained my own recognition at the show in a roundabout way as the dealer showed everyone what a find he had made earlier in the show.(I enjoyed owning the piece as much as he did finding it and showing it to customers.)

                                            I have to admit I am a crabcake snob. If we send bottles of wine back should we be sending back these mounds of sometimes wonderful undercooked jumbo lump crab meat?

                                            1. re: baltimorejim

                                              A big mound of crabmeat? What's not to like? People outside of Maryland, Delaware and coastal Virginia can only dream of such things. If it's good, sweet lump blue crab, I'm down with it. I welcome the different spicings and binders (though both should be minimally evident) as long as the basic ingredient is tasty and fresh. I agree those nasty cardboard patties found elsewhere are an abomination and an insult to the Chesapeake region's most sublime and enduring dish.

                                              1. re: baltimorejim

                                                Hey Jim,

                                                We were exhibiting at the Show also -- that's what took us to Baltimore. Would have loved to have seen that server.

                                                Totally agree with you about crabcake snobbery. Faidley's inconsistency just drives me 'round the bend. We were given a strong rec for Koco's and were planning on going there, but we went to the game instead. Are their crabcakes as good as we heard they are (RIP Angelina's).

                                                1. re: albinoni

                                                  Earlier in this thread I talked up Pappas cakes and I stand by that. They are delicious.

                                                  1. re: kukubura

                                                    I had a Pappas crab cake for lunch at the restaurant 2 Saturdays ago, and while it had some really nice big lumps in it, it was undercooked in the middle and definately Pasturized crab meat- it had that taste. My friend tasted it too and concurred.

                                                    1. re: hon

                                                      Bummer. I've had it 3 or 4 times and though it was awesome every time. I need to get out to the Narrows for a real contemporaneous comparison. Every other cake I've had in the last few years has been either terrible or had some fatal flaw (like waaaaay too much Old Bay)

                                                      1. re: kukubura

                                                        I tried the Narrow's crabcake a few weeks ago. It was technically very good, but certainly not worthy of the iconic status it has on this board. Actually, both Mr Baltoellen and I said that we preferred the Faidley's version.

                                                  2. re: albinoni


                                                    Phil from the Antique Cupboard bought it. He usually photos things and presells them but he could not pass this one up. I think Phil has been very pleased with his crabcake experiences in Baltimore and I believe any explanation of my idea of a crabcake would have not computed for Phil.
                                                    Faidley's premium crabcake recipe is very similar to many home made ones but I just prefer them pan fried rather than deep fried. Good fresh local crab meat makes up for many other flaws.

                                                    I wonder who first developed the idea of a crab cake mound with the particular combination of mayonaise and egg broiled in a restaurant?

                                                    1. re: albinoni

                                                      The crab cake I had from Koco's was very good, although a bit undercooked and gummy in the middle... it was close!

                                                      1. re: gregb

                                                        "undercooked and gummy in the middle..."

                                                        I think Timbuctu's crabcake predated G&M's. Both places were owned by a pair of Greek gentlemen who in there own way may have had as much to do with today's Balt rest style cakes as Phillips has had to do with worldwide blue crab consumption.

                                                        Isn't there anyone out there who can enlighten us on this topic?

                                                        1. re: baltimorejim

                                                          They were owned by cousins who eventually had a falling out, then G&M got sold and rebuilt last year. The method at Timbuktu I think G&M shared spread with cooks to some other places (like the short-lived Greek Isles on Eastern) and involved a very high-temp flash broil lasting a short time frothing and crusting the mayo-based dressing while only briefly heating the interior of the crab lumps. It was Timbuktu who outed his cousin's use of pasteurized foreign meat at G&M in a provable way. Timbuktu crabcakes have been good each visit, YMMV with other menu items...But please keep in mind these are lower quality than Faidley's, Narrows, Jennings, Peppermill and other locally-appreciated MD crabcakes. There's a DC-MD divide in crabcake appreciation. Today I had what a previoulsy-trusted DC foodie said were great crabcakes at the Fire and Sage, and it was just like most other DC ones besides market Lunch and maybe Prime Rib (which started in Baltimore) --no lumps, weird taste, scant fresh crab taste, very pretty in a sauteed way. The history of DC people liking G&M traces back to the Post Crummy But Good column--but Baltimoreans often like other places. Jerry's, Timbuktu, G&M's popularity just proves some people like big golden round cakes with a lot of meat, not necessarily a lot of taste.