I have been eating at Crisfield's seafood restaurant on Georgia Avenue, just outside of DC, since I was a kid. My parents grew up eating there too. Its lunch counter, dining room, tile floors, and - most importantly - the very fresh, local seafood - have not changed at all since it opened in 1945.
Alas, Crisfield's is far from where I live and I do not make it there often. Prior to a recent visit, I was worried. What if Crisfield's survival over the decades has been mere luck and that my idyllic childhood memories have inflated my expectations.
Step inside, look around, and inhale the wafts of fresh seafood. Worries quashed: Crisfield's remains, as always, the real deal.
Start off with the New England clam chowder. Unlike any I've ever had, this chowder is made without milk or cream. Who knew that potatoes could produce such a creamy soup base?! The clams are taken from shells (not cans) -- as verified by an occasional bit of sand encountered as you slurp and chew through this fantastic treat of clammy goodness.
If the current month has an "R" in it, then oysters, which often come from the Delaware Bay, are in season. They're served as a "baker's half-dozen," meaning, fourteen instead of twelve, or seven instead of six. If the shucker deems them small, he fills the plate with plenty of extras. Cocktail sauce, horseradish, and lemon are the traditional accompaniments. Oh, one recommendation: ask for "Ned's Sauce."
It was May, so they had no oysters. Instead, I opted for a platter of steamed cherrystones. Served with a bowl of seawater for desanding, plus drawn butter and lemon, these clams are briny like the ocean and considerably chewier and more substantial than the nearly-invisible littlenecks or cockles often served at other, more high-heeled restaurants.
For the main course, our entire table usually orders the same entrée: Baked Stuffed Shrimp. The crunch of these butterflied shrimp, along with the crabby buttery filling is a seafood miracle that should convert any seafoodphobe into a true believer.
Feeling a little giddy, I broke from the tradition and instead opted for the soft shell crabs (I'd seen the cook dusting them in the back and just couldn't resist). Deep fried quickly, these guys were not the least bit greasy -- and served four to a plate, well let's just say after the chowder and the clams, a couple eight ounce glasses of Bud and then the crabs -- that I was well sated.
I spoke with Bonnie Swanson, one of the owners, about Crisfield's history and its food. She was busy waiting tables, so it was brief. What better way to ensure quality, customer satisfaction, and the continuation of a valuable local business than for an owner to be the one who carries out the food.
Click the photo above to view an audio slideshow/Q&A with Bonnie.
Map Crisfield Seafood Restaurant (call ahead for days/hours).