Let Them Eat Crab Cake

No frills and little filler make for the best crab cakes.



UP FOR CRABS: The crab cake appetizer from Ruby’s Oyster Bar & Bistro.

Take it from a crab-cake snob (I’m from Baltimore and ate Maryland crab practically out of the womb): simplicity is key when it comes to the perfect patty. The best crab cakes taste like sweet, briny crab and not much else. A fistful of lump crabmeat (I prefer it over claw meat), a little mayo, a dash of mustard, some pepper, fresh parsley, a few squeezes of lemon, a pinch of bread or cracker crumbs, and piles of seasoning (I’m an Old Bay girl), and you’re good to go. In Westchester, there are many variations: e.g., broiled, fried, or grilled, dressed up with remoulade, horseradish, Dijon, lemon dill, or plain ol’ tartar. The best thing about this classic dish is that it can be dressed up or down—the perfect antidote when you’re feeling crabby.
  

     The Southwest crab cakes ($9.95) at Blue Moon Mexican Café (7-27 Pondfield Rd, Bronxville 914-337-4000; bluemoon mexicancafe.com) are a pleasant surprise. Truth be told, I wasn’t expecting much—this is a Mexican restaurant, after all, so what do they know about Maryland crab? But I was drawn in by the marriage of flavors—think a fruity chipotle remoulade and mango salsa with hefty portions of lump crabmeat. Cooked to a crispy brown, the cakes are crunchy on the outside, delicately seasoned inside.

      Eastchester Fish Gourmet (837 White Plains Rd, Scarsdale 914-725-3450; eastchesterfish.com) takes its seafood seriously, and the moist, solidly packed crab cake ($12 appetizer; $26 entrée) is no exception. It’s fried to perfection, with a gorgeous golden hue; the recipe was recently changed to include a combination of rock shrimp and Maryland jumbo lump, with a lobster sauce and red-pepper preserve on the side. Snobby me actually liked the red-pepper preserve for the sheer intensity it brought to the dish. The lobster sauce, not so much. Overall, a nice twist on an Eastern Shore classic.

      Creamed corn, tomato salsa, and a light basil pesto sauce surround the two massive crab cakes ($24) from Goldfish Oyster Bar & Restaurant (6 Rockledge Ave, Ossining 914-762-0051; goldfishdining.com). I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy (I’m a purist who prefers my cakes with little to no adornments), but this ornamental version proved to be satisfying. The soothing mood—you gotta love the large fish tank mural that hangs high on the wall, complete with goldfish tank, not to mention Goldfish crackers offered at the bar—makes this a congenial place to tuck into one of the most out-of-the-ordinary crab cakes around.

     Everything about Morton’s, The Steakhouse (9 Maple Ave, White Plains 914-683-6101; mortons.com) feels larger than life, from the Old World presentation of the menu (complete with a live lobster on a rolling cart along with pieces of uncooked beef that are showcased), to the line of waiters who graciously ask how you’re doing and fill your water glass the minute you drain it. But it’s the crab cake ($16 appetizer; $44 entrée), made with minimal filler (think mayo, a dash of mustard, a touch of horseradish, finely chopped parsley, and a pinch of Tabasco Worcestershire sauce), that makes a Marylander proud. The scant, exceedingly creamy stuffing is corralled into a solid cake, and baked in the oven to an impossibly even brown. Ignore the large pile of mustard mayo on the side. Not necessary. The meat stands alone, as do the elegant surroundings.

     Jack & Dyl’s (49 Main St, Tarrytown 914-631-2228; jack anddyls.net) adds sophistication to its crab-cake appetizer ($10) with a zippy lemon-chive remoulade. The cake itself is moist and firm with modest, yet high-quality, lumps of soft, delicious meat.

      The bright and airy Ruby’s Oyster Bar & Bistro (45 Purchase St, Rye 914-921-4166; rubysoysterbar.com), with its sidewalk seating and a breezy “see-and-be-seen” vibe, feels like the kind of place that, were it somewhere other than busy Purchase Street, you could walk in barefoot and order a cold beer and a crab cake. The jumbo lump appetizer ($14) is constructed with just the right amount of filling, which meshes perfectly into the meat.

     It’s a fact: crab cakes taste best served with a water view. And nowhere is more vacation-like and fun than the newly opened Pier Restaurant & Tiki Bar (1 Playland Pkwy, Rye 914-967-1020; pierrestaurantandtikibar.com), where the blue waters of the Sound, the thatched umbrellas, and the rocking music put you in an island frame of mind. I expected fried, chain-like cuisine but was blown over by the lightly pan-fried patty, an oversized mass of crabmeat bursting with flavor, light as a pillow, and as large as a man’s fist (the coconut shrimp is also excellent). Chef John Mandarino, a Johnson & Wales graduate who hails from and grew up working at various restaurants in City Island, knows the secret to good seafood is to let the meat shine. It’s so good you’ll want to savor it sans bun ($16). (Note: Park at Playland and take in your parking ticket to be validated at the restaurant.)

Shell Game

It warms our hearts when a supermarket does “homey” right. The crab cakes at Fairway Market (847 Pelham Pkwy, Pelham 914-712-0011; fairwaymarket.com) are a winner. Just place in the oven when you get home and you might (emphasis on “might”) be able to fool your Maryland-loving spouse that you made them yourself.    

You get four small, yet immensely round, crab cakes ($15) set around a jumbo lemon at The Willett House (20 Willett Ave, Port Chester 914-939-7500; thewilletthouse.com). Here, the magnificence is in the appetizer’s purity, meaning your first bite is an explosion of flavorful, teardrop-shaped clumps of crab. The lemon (tied with a green ribbon) is really all the accompaniment you need, though a housemade spicy mustard sauce is served on the side. And though three of these solid gems probably will satisfy you, you can’t help but pop the fourth one in your mouth. Just remind your dinner companion that sharing, at least on this dish, is not allowed. You’ll want it all for yourself.

Larchmont resident (and Baltimore native) Jeanne Muchnick is famous among her friends for her killer (albeit secret) crab-cake recipe, handed down from her mom, Adele. She admits she uses this guideline—passed down from generations of her mom’s Maryland family—as a standard by which she measures all other crab cakes.