The earliest published reference to “Baltimore crab cakes” is often attributed to Crosby Gaige’s New York world’s Fair Cookbook, published in 1939. Since then, little has changed with the original recipe. Modern methods employ Dijon or yellow mustard instead of English dry, and these days, cooks debate extras like panko, saltine crackers or nothing at all. Whether broiled or pan-fried, the Maryland classic doesn’t skimp on the basics—plenty of succulent meat from Chesapeake blues and Old Bay seasoning. Here, how a few local restaurants do crab cakes best.
Chef Nancy Longo’s smoked cake, made with Maille Dijon mustard, eggs and lemon, gets marks for out-of-the-box thinking. A holdover from her days at Something Fishy, where she says she smoked “anything that wasn’t nailed down,” the Fruitwood-smoked appetizer evolved into a crowd-pleasing entrée at Pierpoint.
The state’s favorite crustacean dominates the menu at this Southern-accented hot spot, but locals ask for the crab cake and fried green tomato eggs Benedict. Chef Brigitte Bledsoe replaces English muffins with mini-size jumbo lump crab cakes made from late owner Eddie Dobkin’s recipe. Though a native Baltimorean, Chef Bledsoe adds a hint of roasted red bell pepper for smokiness.
When brothers Adam and Dave Rather opened this spot, Adam says he tried to get creative by adding dill to the recipe. He quickly realized that locals just want their tried-and-true blues. These days, diners dig into an all-crab cake made of colossal (the largest grade) and claw meats, mixed with Imperial sauce. “Other than that,” says Chef Adam, “we try to keep the lumps as big as possible.”
At this bustling Mount Vernon restaurant, Chef Michael Benson serves up 4-ounce cakes made with fresh bread crumbs, parsley, Hellman’s mayonnaise, yellow mustard, Worcestershire, Old Bay and extra egg yolks for richness. The result is a tender patty that has diners raving.
Now in its 100th year, the famous seafood house offers an “Ultimate” crab cake—8 ounces of pure jumbo lump meat broiled in a cast iron skillet, dusted with the restaurant’s own seafood spice mix (less sodium, no MSG, notes Chef Joe Sauber) and a sprinkling of chopped chives. A house-made remoulade adds a tangy kick. The $47 price tag may seem hefty, but crab-aholics deem the dish worthy of the splurge.
A good crab cake needs no frills, but the right side dish can elevate the experience. Standard mac and cheese will do, but so will deep fried deviled eggs or crispy matchstick fries. Local chefs weigh in with their favorite accompaniments.
Southern Fried Deviled Eggs (Chef Bledsoe, Miss Shirley’s)
These delectable ovals are filled with jalapeno-smoked bacon, cheddar and diced jalapenos, before they’re breaded in panko and deep fried. A duo of sauces—Tabasco aioli and Baltimore Barbecue Co. Chesapeake Style-Sauce with Old Bay—makes for zesty dipping.
Brussels Sprout Slaw (Chef Longo, Pierpoint)
This play on traditional cole slaw (left) nods to Baltimore’s history as the largest grower of Brussels sprouts in the 17th century. Sprouts are steamed then shredded and tossed in a sweet-and-sour sauce that cuts through the richness of any crab cake.
Chipotle Mac and Cheese (Chef Rather, Mother’s Federal Hill Grille)
It may be a standard partner for crab-filled patties, but this version (opposite page) adds smoky-spicy chipotle for a Southwestern kick.
Duck Fat Fries (Chef Benson, City Café)
A hefty side, these French fries are dunked in duck fat then tossed with five-year-old gouda and Romano cheeses.
Potato Gratin (Chef Sauber, Phillips)
You can’t go wrong with this simple and straightforward classic—slender potato slices bathed in cheese and cream, then broiled in a cast iron skillet.