Visiting the Maine Ave. wharf
I'm considering visiting the Maine Ave. wharf area next weekend with family, and I'd like a few questions answered before I go, so as to stand around looking confused as little as possible.
When I checked out the area earlier, I noticed that everything had prices, except for the live crabs. Are you supposed to haggle with the sellers over the price?
Will they sell a couple dozen live crabs, then cook them for you on the spot?
I saw a covered eating area on the east side of the fishmongers, do you take your food and bring it over there? Do they have utensils, napkins, newspaper, etc.?
Will they cook fresh non-crab for you too (fish, shrimp, etc.)?
I've read that the actual catch comes from places like Jessup; is there a similar area over there that would be even better to try, assuming enough time to drive?
Thanks from a confused transplant.
Even if you're going for the seafood you should save room for dessert at Jimmy's. I know it's kind of random for a fish market but Jimmy makes ridiculously good cakes from scratch. The banana in particular is just unbelievable....super moist with actual chunks of banana and the tastiest cream cheese frosting. Yum! It was a huge slab of cake so I shared it with 3 friends - perfect!
You can go by metro or by circulator bus.
If you go by metro, you can exit at the L'Enfant Plaza stop or the Waterfront Stop. If you exit at L'Enfant, and aren't familiar with the area, you can actually exit through the hotel which sits on top of L'Enfant plaza, and ask someone in the lobby to direct you (it's a rather weird walk though a kind of overpass to nowhere and then down a hill).
If you exit at Waterfront, walk toward the new Arena Stage theater, which is easy to spot as it's the huge futuristic structure still under construction. Cross the street to get to Maine avenue. Turn RIGHT (e.g. toward the Washington Monument) and walk for about 10 minutes.
If you are near the Mall or the Penn Quarter area, catch one of the red DC circulator buses along 9th street headed south. The bus eventually circles around to Maine Avenue (probably after "resting" for a while at 6th and Maine). You'll get off the bus near the large waterfront restaurants and walk toward the Washington Monument along Maine Avenue. At this stop you are very close to the fish wharf. The drivers on the Circulator bus are generally really helpful and will tell you when to exit if you ask.
I live in the area and eat at the Wharf all the time. It's rather "rustic" and not really designed for comfortable dining, but it's a unique part of DC's heritage.
Crabs can be bought by the dozen, half bushel and bushel. Prices vary wildly based on season, but are pretty consistent across the different vendors. I'm not sure why they don't list prices - I've never found anyone who was amenable to haggling. I was over there a couple weeks ago and they wanted $200+ for a bushel of large females. I suspect the crazy high prices were a factor of supply and demand as they only had females left and it was the first warm weekend of the spring.
They will steam just about anything for you as well as cooking fish, although I haven't tried that yet. Weekend evenings tend to be pretty crowded and the lines for getting your food cooked are the longest.
The covered eating area is fairly new, but it's a good addition. You have to get your utensils and napkins where you get your food - I don't remember seeing anything but wooden tables in the eating area.
Last year they had a DJ pumping out music on Saturday nights. It was a little strange, but there was a great mix of people eating and enjoying.
I have been to a seafood market in Jessup in my youth. It was more of a wholesale district and certain wholesalers allowed the public in. Definitely not a place to go on a Saturday night for your crab fix.
I've bought one dozen crabs at Maine Avenue (don't remember which vendor) and they fixed them while we waited. One good idea is to pack your own mallet and do a picnic at Haines Point, which is a very short drive/bike ride from Maine Avenue. If you picnic near the "clubhouse" of the golf course you have access to restrooms and the snack bar for sodas and stuff. Recently there have been people making BBQ chicken and ribs there, too. The ribs were pretty good.
Google "wharf" and "dc" "fish market" etc and you'll find a bunch of discussions with good tips on picking good crabs, how to spot when they're dumping the poor stuff on you, etc etc.
Unfortunately, it's not the "fresh from the Bay" sort of market that it looks like, but it is one of the last open air seafood markets on the Mid Atlantic -- it may be the last. The blue crabs are local though.
I remember that you're supposed to get the live female crabs, and pick them yourself. the pre-steamed are a bit cheaper but I think it is because they've been steamed right before they kicked the bucket, to spare them from the waste bin. Look up those tips on spotting healthy and dead crabs. They will steam and season them for you on the spot. I hear the crab cakes in that little shop beside the eating area are good. The shops provide utensils, but bring napkins to be safe. The eating area is just standing height benches with wooden mallets for crab breaking, tethered to the posts. I think the bushels are a total rip off. But if you love crabs, maybe its worth it -- not that big and a whole lot of work to get at the meat.. and not cheap.
I go to Maine Ave every couple months but all I do is fried fish, oysters on the half shell and spiced shrimp. I usually go inside the U, right hand side. Not sure which name it is. I eat my fish to the left of the covered area, the covered area can get kind of noisy.
It is odd that I never noticed that I never saw signs for a bushel of live crabs. That used to be what I bought, 25 years ago. There used to be a ton of places to get a bushel of crabs, but I don't know a single place to get them now. Those joints disappeared and I didn't even notice that they were going.