Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Beer and Crabs in Ocean City, Maryland
Macky's is our second choice, but it becomes our first choice once we get inside. The other bar, Seacrets—which, I'm sorry, sounds more like an oceanside adult entertainment complex—teems at 4 in the afternoon with dudes who are draped in gold and peeling from their spring tans, the bikini clad girls on their arms universally and uniformly tramp stamped, like cattle. I had been concerned about the bouncers letting us in with sandals instead of proper shoes. I need not have worried. So. Next bar.
Macky's is the choice because Colin knows someone who works there, but in reality, Colin and Candice know someone who works in every single bar in Ocean City, Maryland, and about half the patrons, too. Alas, something I experience only rarely: Travel with locals.
The bar's back wall is open to the ocean and tables spill out onto the sand. Inside, the high ceiling is hung with bowling trophies Ocean City ephemera, and TV screens. Potted palms abound. The crowd is pleasantly all over the map—families with sticky-fingered little kids, couples drinking pre-dinner Coronas, rowdy packs of twentysomethings, senior citizens watching the game. Macky's don't serve Maryland's most famous dish--blue crabs--but the TV screens encourage you to “Embrace the All-Carb Diet” with a pasta dish and to try their grilled shrimp. Food, however, was not our mission. That would come later. But we did order creamy/icy margaritas and the house specialty—an enormous cocktail called an Orange Crush, which is served in a sand pail with five straws and a plastic shovel. Having tried other macro cocktails—enthusiastic and brain-wrecking drinks served in fish bowls, etc.--let's just say that this one, like most, is more about quantity than quality and appeals to a specific crowd. Like, the one I was with, for example. For future reference, it also comes in grape.
They played the soundtrack from my senior year of high school—Chumbawumba, Third Eye Blind, Weezer—and we drank as the sun set, as the day-to-evening crowd shift began, as summer inched closer.
And then we went for crabs, because that's what you do in Ocean City, Maryland at the beginning of summer. We choose Higgins.
Having grown up on lobster and steamers, I come prepared for a mess, but I am still a little surprised when a bus boy arrives and promptly tapes sheets of brown paper to the table in front of us. The air is humid, the sun disappeared. We're famished, so we all order the same thing—the Number 1—which includes all-you-can-eat blue crabs, fried chicken, corn on the cob, crab soup, cole slaw, and french fries. Other options include Alaska king crab legs instead of blue crabs, baby back ribs, shrimp, or all of the above, together or separately. The Number 1 costs about $25.
And then the waitress dumps a mountain of food on our table. Literally. The fried chicken comes on plates, thank God, but the crabs are served dire
ctly on the table along with an assortment of little tools—a pointed knife, a small plastic cracker that looks nothing like the stainless steel lobster crackers of my youth, a fork, and (my favorite) a wooden mallet. She also gives us tubs of vinegar, melted butter and Old Bay seasoning, a mixture of salt, paprika, and chile powder. The crabs are a little bigger than a hand, their backs steamed an angry orange, Old Bay sticking to their claws. The mountain of them is gorgeous, a chaotic tangle. Candice gives the lesson.
She picks up a crab and flips it over.
“First you pull up the penis.”
She aims the point of her knife under a narrow piece of the shell in the center.
“It's the penis. It really is. This is a boy. If you get a girl crab, it looks different.”
She shows us how to split the body, clean out the gills and goop on the inside, hit the claws with the mallet. It is about four thousand times more work than opening up a lobster, and for a third of the meat. After much cracking, splitting, prodding, and picking, we all realize that we haven't looked up from the table in twenty minutes. Our beers sit mostly untouched. The crabs are delicious and, amazingly, so is the corn. Usually corn served in roasdside seafood joints—again, I speak from experience—is wrinkly and flavorless. It is simply not a priority with all that incredible seafood around. This corn is truly amazing—golden and sweet and perfectly cooked. If only we had room for more of it with all of our crabs. I lose count of how many I've eaten after an hour—maybe 6? By then, my hands are filthy, my lap full of shell fragments. We unwind paper towels from the roll two and three sheets at a time. The bus boys clear the trash buckets on our table every ten minutes. We make a colossal mess.
By the time we're done, the paper in front of us is soaked through, strewn with bits of shell and meat. It looks as though dinner exploded. We will smell like crabs for hours. No one seems to mind very much.
Macky's serves copious amounts of alcohol every day and night until 2 am and food at other times. You can find it at:
54th Street on the Bay (5311 Coastal Highway)
Ocean City, MD 21842
Higgins Crab House is happy to give you more paper to tape to your table, if you ask, at two separate locations. We visited the one at:
31st Street and Coastal Highway
Ocean City, MD 21842