The 10 Best Seafood Shacks in the U.S.

The 10 Best Seafood Shacks in the U.S.


The 10 Best Seafood Shacks in the U.S.

If you drew a Venn diagram outlining the best qualities of a seafood shack and the best qualities of a dive bar, the two would have more in common than not. A great seafood shack, like a great dive bar, should have no more than two televisions, and bonus if there are none whatsoever. A great seafood shack, like a great dive bar, should be affordable. A great seafood shack, like a great dive bar, should be the kind of place where all classes of people from all walks of life can feel comfortable congregating together, rubbing elbows on the well-worn bar top (or tree stump, if the case may have it), and generally forgetting about the places from whence they came.

And if we’re getting to the heart of what makes a great seafood shack, that convivial air is paramount. That, and the food, of course. As restaurateur Aaron Lefkove, co-owner of two supremely successful Littleneck outposts in New York City, put it to me recently, the inspiration for opening a New England-style seafood spot in Brooklyn came about in the most casual way possible: at a backyard barbecue with his friend and business partner, Andy Curtin. “We literally started talking while grilling clams,” he told me. “We were like, ‘Oh, a place like this is dope. There’s nowhere like this near us other than on Long Island – we should make this happen.'”

Of course, with great (albeit casual) inspiration comes great responsibility. “It was important for us to get the food right,” Lefkove noted. “We needed to do that justice. The food we serve is very much of a certain geographical region – the full-bellied clam roll, steamers, lobster roll, raw oysters – those are the staples. Those share the same DNA with the stuff you’d find a clapboard shack on the side of the road.”

Décor was important as well. “Aesthetically, we walk a fine line between tasteful and becoming a Long John Silver’s,” Lefkove joked. That’s intentional, too. In my recent search for the greatest seafood shacks in America – or, at least, the greatest “clapboard shack”-style seafood shacks in America – one trend became clear: an inverse relationship between fanciness and food quality. Indeed, what tied the best seafood shacks together – and this research, while not exhaustive, was certainly exhausting – was a universal disregard for interior decorating. The best places let the natural atmosphere communicate authenticity for them. Put simply: when you’re on the waterfront, you don’t need nice seat cushions. When you’ve got a view of the Pacific, and you’re serving hours-old catch of the day, you don’t need to worry about silverware because a basket and some toothpicks will do.

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How to Size a Crab

Baltimore Sun Article May 2013

First in a three-part series on crabs.
For Marylanders, crabs are more than a menu item. They’re a way of life.
Generations of Marylanders have relied on blue crabs, culled from the Chesapeake Bay, as sustenance and — in the case of watermen — for their livelihoods.
Today, crabs are as much a social treat as they are a source of protein. The crab feast involves crabs, beer and lots of paper towels, and is a messy Maryland rite of passage.
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Maryland True Blue Crabs


Cantlers Riverside Inn is excited to announce, in effort to promote local, Maryland products and the food service establishments that support local industries, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources is marketing a new initiative ,”TRUE BLUE“.

The True Blue initiative aims to recognize those food service establishments that use Maryland crab products and in the process, let consumers know that what they are purchasing is truly a local product, one of superior taste and quality.

In order to be True Blue Certified, participating food service establishments commit that at least 75% of their annual crab usage will be from Maryland harvested or processed crabs.  Also, such usage must be substantiated through the occasional submission of sales receipts and invoices to DNR upon request.

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Americas Best Seafood

America’s Best Seafood

By Liz Weiss | U.S. News – Tue, Jul 24, 2012 6:02 PM EDT

Click the link to read the rest of the article
Cantler’s Riverside Inn
Annapolis, Md.

Best Catch: Jimmy’s Crab Feast ($25.99)

Cantler’s Riverside Inn is best known for its juicy Maryland blue crabs. If you come hungry, you’ll want to delight in Jimmy’s Crab Feast, a tasty combination of steamed crabs, mussels, and shrimp. This assortment is accompanied by tangy coleslaw and sweet corn on the cob. As you crack open fresh crabs sprinkled with Old Bay seasoning, don’t forget to admire the restaurant’s scenic vistas overlooking Annapolis’ tranquil Mill Creek. Plus, Cantler’s maritime-themed décor and jovial staff have made this laid-back institution a local fixture.

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Crab Heaven at Cantler’s

USA Today Article 1/20/12Great American Bites: Crab heaven at Cantler’s in Annapolis
By Larry Olmsted, special for USA TODAY
The scene: Maryland is world-famous for its crab cakes, but along the coast of the Chesapeake Bay, including Annapolis, home of the U.S. Naval Academy, steamed hard-shell crabs are an even more traditional local specialty. Fortunately, visitors to Cantler’s don’t have to choose. The waterfront crab house, which specializes in steamed crabs by the bucketful, also serves up virtually every other imaginable twist on local seafood, from crab cakes two different ways to fried softshell crab sandwiches, the other Chesapeake Bay specialty, alongside shrimp, scallops, oysters and clams.
Great American Bites
In the nearly 40 years since it opened, it is doubtful any regular – and there are plenty – has called it Jimmy Cantler’s Riverside Inn. Known simply as Cantler’s, it is a short drive or cab ride from the heart of downtown Annapolis, located amongst riverfront fishing shacks in a residential neighborhood. It is easy enough to reach, but you have to know where to look, and it is not the kind of place visitors are likely to stumble across. Nonetheless, its reputation attracts outsiders, since it is usually ranked first or second in Annapolis for crab cakes, among stiff competition – and crab cakes are not even the specialty. Once you find it you are glad you did, because Cantler’s is about as real and old school as it gets.
The freestanding building contains a mix of individual and larger communal tables, with empty seats filled in as needed. The place feels like a neighborhood bar — indoor tables feature old newspaper clippings that have been lacquered into history, the metal chairs are straight out of a Lions Club function, and the decorative highlights include a Budweiser blackboard displaying the market price for fresh blue crabs by the dozen ($60 large, $75 x-large) and a huge dispenser roll of brown paper for covering the tables in advance of crab smashing feasts. Beer is served in cans, crabs on plastic cafeteria trays, soup in paper cups, and fried seafood is accompanied by tiny tubs of Kraft tartar sauce. There is an outdoor deck with picnic tables that is enclosed with plastic tarps in winter and heated, so you can still sit “outside.” The only concession to modernity added since Cantler’s opened is flashing buzzers to let waiting patrons know they have a table. It is often very busy.
Reason to visit: Blue crabs, crab cakes, fried seafood, soups.
The food: The Atlantic Blue Crab, also known as the Chesapeake Blue Crab, is the official state crustacean of Maryland, and its Latin name means “beautiful savory swimmer.” Chesapeake Bay yields about a third of all blue crabs in the U.S., and they are revered throughout the state. Because they are notoriously difficult to “pick,” or extract meat from, they cost a lot more in forms that involve finished crab meat, like crab cakes, than served whole and simply steamed. As softshell crabs they can be eaten whole, shell and all, usually breaded and fried. Softshells are simply molting blue crabs that just shed their hard shell, available May to September.

By Larry Olmsted for USA TODAY
The interior of Jimmy Cantler’s Riverside Inn feels like a neighborhood bar, with brown paper ‘tablecloths’ covering picnic benches.
At Cantler’s the specialty is steamed whole crabs by the dozen, cooked with Old Bay seasoning, the best known of several local spice mixes specifically for crabs. The twelve crabs, sold by size, are dumped onto a plastic tray, sprinkled generously with more Old Bay, and delivered to your table along with implements of destructions including wooden mallets and metal knives. You use the mallets to break open the legs and claws, then unhinge the top and bottom shells of the main body and hunt around inside for meat using a combination of knife and fingers. Pieces of meat fall onto the brown paper and you pick them up with your fingers. It’s quite messy, and like eating a lobster, for some the battle is half the fun, for others simply a nuisance. Either way, the crabmeat, always fresh from the bay, is tender and very sweet.
But for those who want to take it easy, crab cakes are the way to go. In Maryland, the best are made from almost entirely crab, ideally the most desirable “lump” meat, with as little filler (bread crumbs or cracker) and binder (egg, mayo) as needed to hold them together, usually broiled or pan sautéed. At Cantler’s they offer this style as broiled lump crab cakes, nearly all meat – they look like scoops of crab ice cream. But they also have deep fried crab cakes, made with the less exclusive but still good backfin meat, then breaded and fried. Both are excellent, and while some purists look down on the fried version, it’s a matter of taste and many like the fried better. At Cantler’s both were excellent, as good as any I’ve had, served as platters, two large cakes with fries.
• PHOTOS: Crab-house hunting in Maryland
The cream of crab soup was excellent, with a good amount of very tender crab meat in a thick white creamy base, like New England clam chowder, which is also on the menu, along with crab soup and oyster chowder. Cantler’s is very good at frying, a tough art to master, and the fries are excellent, as are the softshell crabs, oysters and all things breaded and fried. The fried oyster po’ boy does New Orleans proud.
They have a surprisingly large menu, and while crabs in one form or another are a prerequisite for first-time visitors, and the crab cakes exceptional, nearly anything from the seafood offerings is worthwhile. For two, a dozen crabs and a crab cake platter will suffice, while larger groups can enjoy the shared crab picking experience and try several other things as well. Either way, the food is very good, the setting wonderful, and the ambiance feels like you have been let in on a local secret.
What regulars say: “How’d you hear about Cantler’s? That’s not a place people staying at the Westin go. It’s where we go,” said a local in the Westin hotel bar.
Pilgrimage-worthy?: Yes – all the best of Maryland seafood under one roof – or the summer sky.
Rating: Yum! (Scale: Blah, OK, Mmmm, Yum!, OMG!)
Price: $$ ($ cheap, $$ moderate, $$$ expensive)
Details: 458 Forest Beach Road, Annapolis; 410-757-1311;
Larry Olmsted has been writing about food and travel for more than 15 years. An avid eater and cook, he has attended cooking classes in Italy, judged a BBQ contest and once dined with Julia Child. Follow him on Twitter,@TravelFoodGuy, and if there’s a unique American eatery you think he should visit, send him an e-mail

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Cantler’s Rockfish Tournament

Cantler’s Annual Dave Wilson Memorial Rockfish Tournament, Saturday November 5th. If you would like to participate the Captains meeting will be held at Cantler’s bar on Thursday November 3rd at 7pm. For more details give us a call, 410-757-1311.

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