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A Guide to Eating Crabs

I’m hard-pressed to think of a more perfect meal than steamed Maryland blue crabs in Old Bay seasoning, and French fries. It’s divine. Eating crabs also reminds me of lazy summer days and happy memories, so the fondness owes itself to both the crabs and nostalgia.

If you live along the Eastern seaboard, I’m assuming you’ve already tasted crabs at some point in your life. But if not, why not head over to The Dancing Crab in Tenleytown, where they serve an all-you-can-eat crab fest from Sunday-Thursday. My parents and I ate there last week, and we had a marvelous time.

Before you’re presented with your first platter of crabs, there are a few things you should know:

1) The bib — the bib is very important. Sure you’ll look like a three-year old at Chuck E. Cheese, but unless you came wearing painter’s overalls, you’ll want that bib to prevent crab bits from spraying all over your Calvin Klein couture.

2)  Before your hands get too covered in crab, take a pic of your tablemates in their bibs so you can embarrass them at a later date. I forgot to do that.

3) Even with the bib, prepare to get messy. Crab juice will run down your arms, broken crab shells will be strewn everywhere and your hands will smell like Old Bay seasoning for a day.

4) Assemble your battle weapons: a mallet, a crab pick (or small knife) and lots and lots of napkins.

5) Table manners, schmable manners. Whacking a claw violently with a mallet, spitting out crab shells, picking out crabmeat by hand, sucking on fingers for that residual Old Bay, creating an eating area that looks like a crab tank just exploded… it’s all fair game.

6) That bucket sitting beside your table? It’s not there because the roof is leaking. It’s for the shells and discarded crab bits. Dump ‘em in there.

Ready to eat? Here’s how:

1) First, pull off the claws and legs. Don’t throw away the legs! Snap them open and gently pull apart; what you should find is a tiny, delicate strand of meat. Suck the juices out of the legs and see what other morsels you can nudge out of there.

2) Tackle the claws next — take that mallet and give them a good whack to crack open the shell. Don’t be shy, let out that aggression! How often do you get to hit something while you eat?  Claw meat is sublime, so get every last bit, and don’t forget the meat in the knuckles.

3) Now it’s on to the body. Flip it over so the underside faces up. Take your knife, pull up on the thin flap (the apron) and tear it off.  Flip the crab back over and remove the shell.

4) Scrape off the gills (I don’t think they’re poisonous or anything, but you don’t want to eat them.) You’ll also want to remove the greenish substance, whatever it is.

5) Snap the body in half and now you can pick out all the sweet crab meat inside the two pieces. There’s a lot in there so take your time. The effort only makes the reward that much better.

6) Repeat the process until you absolutely, positively cannot eat anymore.

Steamed crabs are a first-rate dining experience, but on a first date? Debatable. The pros:

a) First dates can be nerve-wracking. With crabs you’ll have something to do with your hands and an activity to focus on. And who knows, you might accidentally touch hands reaching for the post-dinner Wet Wipes.

b) You’ll find out what kind of eater your date is. If he/she gets into the process and digs in with gusto, that’s a keeper.

The cons:

a) Crab eating is not a quick process. My parents and I were at The Dancing Crab for almost two and a half hours. If the date’s going badly, that’s an eternity.

b) Because the crabs require some concentration, it’s difficult to eat crabs and maintain a conversational flow.  This could be a positive thing if you have nothing to say to each other anyway, or it could be incredibly awkward.

c) You’re wearing a bib.

So maybe not crabs on a first date. But any other time, absolutely.

What are you waiting for, grab a mallet and get to it!

The Dancing Crab
4611 Wisconsin Ave.
Washington, DC