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Crash Course in Crab Picking

Blue crab season is in full swing here in the Mid-Atlantic, and some in Congress have wisely taken notice — peppering their summer fundraising plans with outdoor feasts and picnic-y picking sessions that naturally lend themselves to rolled-up sleeves, frosty beers and Old Bay-stained bibs and fingers.

All of which got us thinking: Why should members have all the fun?

Chowing down on drowned-in-drawn-butter crustaceans is every DMV denizen’s God-given right.

And there are plenty of savvy purveyors ready to share the bounty of the Chesapeake Bay (and sometimes beyond) with local seafood lovers, all year long.

Here’s our short-list (ordered by closest to furthest from the Capitol) of the region’s choice spots to get better acquainted with our extra pinchy neighbors.

Maine Avenue Fish Market
1100 Maine Ave. SW

If you want it, they’ve got it.

The open-air market is packed with dueling merchants tossing out free samples of all things seafood just to get your business. With deliveries coming in daily — some right up to the adjoining marina — customers are guaranteed to find something delectable to munch on, be it ginormous Alaskan king crab legs, so-fresh-they’re-still-crawling-all-over-one-another hard shells (steamed and spiced on demand), floppy soft-shell crabs and virtually every other creepy, crawly shellfish the sea might have to offer.

Terrific sides (mouthwatering smoked fish salads, crunchy hush puppies, seasoned corn) abound. And the fried chicken is none too shabby.

1200 Fort Myer Drive, Arlington, Va.

This long-standing old crab shack is terribly lived in, and all the better for it.

The rickety structure is reminiscent of a beachside restaurant, the walls larded up with nautical knickknacks and local memorabilia. But nobody visits for the architecture — so get thee outside to one of the long, brown-papered tables on the patio and get to cracking.

Quarterdeck hauls cooked-to-order Maryland blue crabs (regular through jumbo) to each table by the dozen and also offers an all-you-can-eat crab feast (sublime) for those with plenty of time (and calories) to kill.

Sea Side Crab House
6799 Wilson Boulevard, Falls Church, Va.

Mind you, this place does not deal in traditional blue crabs. But as anyone who’s visited this most unusual slice of the Vietnamese-dominated Eden Center can testify, Sea Side is well worth the trip.

What you give up in eating local, Sea Side more than makes up in terms of outstanding flavors.

The menu is Cajun by way of Vietnam, weaving together Southern staples such as Louisiana-style peel-and-eat crawfish with exotic delicacies (ginger-spiked boiled snails, grilled conch). The gargantuan crabs are trucked in from Texas and steamed/spiced like every other batch in town; the real score is an order of the crab fried rice, an Asian feast of shredded crab meat mixed with egg, garlic, scallions and fluffy rice.

Captain Pell’s
10195 Lee Highway, Fairfax, Va.

A fixture in the NoVa ’burbs, Captain Pell’s has been plying patrons with AYCE blue crabs for decades.

The family-run restaurant does crabs year-round, drawing from the Chesapeake Bay during the summer and supplementing their stores with additional sources during the off-season.

Their selection is varied (regular through jumbo-sized males, regular to large females) and plentiful — which means seats are often scarce on weekends and holidays.

Most specimens yield delicious clumps of sweet crabmeat, while a liberal dusting of seafood spice adds rolling heat. Non-crab lovers (weird, we know) can pick from a host of other fried/steamed seafood options, including some stellar peel-and-eat shrimp and delectable breaded clam strips.

Cantler’s Riverside Inn
458 Forest Beach Road, Annapolis, Md.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., knew what he was doing recently, setting up a fundraiser lunch at this Annapolis landmark.

Established by a bona fide Chesapeake Bay waterman, Jimmy Cantler, this place knows it’s all about dumping crabs and gallons of beer on your table.

The food is great, and the outdoor dining on Mill Creek is breathtaking. This place also secures bonus points for allowing free docking for patrons who arrive by boat.

Stoney’s Seafood House
3939 Oyster House Road, Broomes Island, Md.

Pennsylvania Avenue leads not just to the White House and Capitol Hill, but also to Stoney’s Seafood House, a crab-lover’s paradise in Calvert County, about 50 miles from the Capitol.

Beyond the Beltway, Pennsylvania Avenue becomes Maryland Route 4, which will eventually lead one heading south to Broomes Island Road and Stoney’s.

Stoney’s is rightfully renowned for its crabcakes, but it does a good number with steamed crabs, and dismembering a blue crab while sitting at one of Stoney’s floating tables on this small inlet on the Patuxent River is a quintessential Southern Maryland experience.

And any restaurant you can sidle up to in your boat gets praise in our book.

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