One of my favorite things to consume during the summer is blue crabs. Slowly sharing a bushel with a large group is a commonality between Asian communities and many people who grew up on the Eastern seaboard. While some people complain that the small amount of meat is not worth the effort of crab picking (and hence, the invention of the crab cake), those folks are missing the point. The effort is worth it when you’re sitting by the water surrounded by family and friends, cracking crabs and downing cold beers on a lazy, sunny afternoon.
I’ve been eating blue crabs most of my life. At a very young age, my parents taught me how to crack open the bodies and pick out the meat. I can tell the difference between males (“jimmies”) and females (“sookies” if they don’t have roe or “busters” if they do have roe) and know that the best time to buy them is two weeks after a full moon when they are at their fullest (i.e., most filled with meat). People who grew up in Maryland and Delaware can wax poetic about their favorite crab houses that specialize in the all-you-can-eat (AYCE) feasts.
Six years ago when I moved to New York, I refused to give up AYCE crabs and vowed to hunt down places that offered this summer time specialty. The now-defunct Park Slope restaurant Minnow used to have a summer all-you-can-eat special but limited eating time to 2 hours. Back Forty in the East Village continues the tradition, but I find the 2-hour limit and Back Forty’s reservation/seating system off putting. It really defeats the relaxed atmosphere that you’re supposed to have.
After some hunting on the internet, I found a place in Brooklyn that finally lived up to expectations: Clemente’s. This past Saturday, some friends and I trekked down to Sheepshead Bay to spend our afternoon dockside enjoying AYCE crabs proper. Though completely coincidental, the New York Times Magazine had a timely write-up on crabs this weekend.
While Clemente’s is not very convenient to get to without a car, you can still get there using public transportation (2/3/F/D/Q trains followed by a bus) or riding your bicycle down the beautiful bike lanes of Ocean Parkway to the water. Here are some suggestions for booking your trip: (1) call ahead for a reservation, especially if you have a large party like we did, (2) ask to sit outside on the deck that overlooks the Plumb Beach Channel and (3) bring plenty of cash or your ATM card because the place is CASH ONLY.
Also note that parties of 6 or more get tagged with an automatic 18% gratuity. Clemente’s serves their crabs with traditional Old Bay (which is my preference) but also offers a garlic style (heavy on the oil, garlic cloves and fresh parsley) that was very popular with some members of our party. Boiled yellow corn and French fries accompany the crabs. It may sound like a lot of effort, both the trip to Clemente’s and crab picking in general, but believe me it’s well worth it. I’ve been going for the past three years and already look forward to organizing for next year.