These regional specialties warm up menus in the Mid-Atlantic.
The Bay in a Bowl
You'll certainly find oysters and crab on menus in other areas of the country, but few places serve them with the enthusiasm of those near the Chesapeake Bay. This time of year, we're especially partial to the regional soups and stews. Bud Harrison, Jr.--who runs Harrison's Chesapeake House on Tilghman Island, Maryland, with his parents Captain Buddy and Miss Bobbie--says they sell gallons of their oyster stew. The secret? Fresh oysters that go from the bay to the kitchen. Because the family also owns an oyster shucking business, Bud personally hand selects the oysters they use at the restaurant. To make the stew, the cooks sauté the oysters in a butter-and- salt-and-pepper mix until they curl; then they add a milk-and-cream base. It's not something you can easily make ahead of time, so most bowls served here are made to order. When in season, they offer a oyster buffet on Friday night. 21551 Chesapeake House Drive, Tilghman Island, MD 21671; (410) 886-2121. Cup of stew: $3.75, bowl: $4.75.
Carrol's Creek Cafe
Over the years, I've eaten stockpots of cream of crab soup at Carrol's Creek Cafe in Annapolis, and I'm apparently not alone in my culinary experience. In the 21 years this restaurant has been in business, this yummy delicacy remains the best-selling appetizer on its fine dining menu.
Just by hearing the name, you may have guessed it already: Heavy cream makes up to 50% of the cafe's recipe. "It's like the difference between Ben & Jerry's and regular ice cream," says general manager Richard McClure. "You just keep adding cream."
Imported sherry and a unique combination of herbs and spices also helps set this soup apart. For example, Richard says the chef infuses the cream base with onion and cloves as he heats it. These and other ingredients, including commercial crab stock and a dash of Old Bay seasoning, create a subtle background to showcase the savory chunks of jumbo lump crabmeat that give the delicious soup its name. You'll enjoy every spoonful. 410 Severn Avenue, Annapolis, MD 21403; (410) 263-8102. Cup of soup: $6.50.
You often see cream of crab soup on menus outside this region, but tomato-based crab soup is served almost exclusively in the Mid-Atlantic. It goes by several monikers. In Maryland, it takes the state name. In Virginia, it's simply known as vegetable crab.
To make his version of Maryland crab soup, Donovan Mundy, the chef at Pascal's Tavern at St. Michaels Harbour Inn & Marina, starts with a stock he makes himself using crab shells. He then adds fresh herbs and vegetables. "My main ingredients are fresh thyme and fresh tomatoes," he confides. Blue crab claw meat rounds out the list of ingredients.
With its lovely view of St. Michaels Harbor, Pascal's offers the perfect spot for enjoying a sandwich and a large bowl of the hearty soup. For fine dining, head upstairs to Harbour Lights, the marina's upscale restaurant. 101 North Harbor Road, St. Michaels, MD 21663; (410) 745-9001. Cup of soup: $4.95, bowl: $7.95.
"Chesapeake Bay" is from the November 2004 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.