Ship's Cafe Restaurant and Crab House

828 Frederick Rd.
Catonsville, MD  21228
Ships Cafe Restaurant and Crab House on Urbanspoon

We did Father's Day dinner a day early and had planned to go to R&R Taqueria, which is widely known as the best Mexican food in the area.  Those plans went up on smoke when we realized that R&R was only a take out joint and wouldn't have room for 8 people for a sit down dinner.  Plan B was to find an old fashioned crab house and have a Maryland tradition for dinner.  We decided to go try out a veritable institution just a few miles from Baltimore (in Catonsville) called Ship's Cafe Restaurant and Crab House.

Ship's is in downtown Catonsville on Frederick Road and I want to say that it's been there forever because I remember driving by the same building in high school.   I can't be certain of that though.  The restaurant is in a no-frills shanty type of building that had a line going out the door when we first arrived.  It looks like its a pretty popular place during the weekends as we had to wait 30 minutes for our table even though we called ahead of time and reserved a table.  It's primarily a seafood restaurant but the menu is chock full of bar food/pizzeria staples like mozzarella sticks and various pastas.

There were a bunch of us so I guess there was an idea to order a variety of things off of the menu.  The orders ranged from two pasta dishes, which I didn't taste, to steamed shrimp, broiled fresh scallops, the steamed seafood combo, soft shell crabs, steamed crabs with Old Bay, some sides of corn on the cob, mozzarella sticks and a side of mashed potatoes and gravy (what?).  I can't comment on the pasta since I didn't try them and the mashed potatoes and gravy didn't get touched because the gravy looked like it had congealed and the potatoes looked of the instant variety but I did get to have a sample of the rest of the orders.

There's not much to say about most of the food here.  The soft shell crabs were too heavily battered and had a weird mushy consistency with a ton more water content than I've seen in them before.  I enjoyed the steamed shrimp with the heavy emphasis on Old Bay.  They were big and seemed fresh but nothing out of the ordinary.  The various seafood in the steamed seafood combo was done quite well and the broth they were stewed in was sublime.  The scallops were broiled well and were big chunks of sweet goodness but again it was just solid and simple and not something I would go back for.

That being said, the redeeming quality of the meal were the crabs.  First thing I noticed is what The Hideaway is advertising as jumbo crabs is not the same thing they classify as jumbo crabs in Maryland.  Since only my two young nieces (what!?!) ordered the crabs, we only got mediums which were definitely larger than the jumbos I had in NYC.  The second thing you notice immediately are all the wonderful clumps of Old Bay all over the crabs.  In NYC, they're reluctant to put on too much.  In Maryland, it's a crime to put on too little.  The Old Bay was glopped on found itself in every crevice of the crab.  The flavor was unabashedly bold yet there was enough meat in the crabs that the Old Bay wasn't overpowering.  It really has been a few years since I've had a true Maryland crab feast and I had almost forgotten what I loved about them.  I'm glad we at least got a few on this day.

There's something to be said about local cuisine like steamed Maryland Blue Crabs.  You can import them and use the same ingredients and recipe as they do in Maryland but I realize now it will never be as good.  It is too difficult to import that experience, know-how and absolute devotion to the cuisine.  Ship's is a good example because there's a place like it in every town in Maryland.  It does simple yet solid bar/comfort food but at it's heart, it's just a simple Crab House that steams crabs the way Marylanders have enjoyed them for generations....hon.


  1. I won't even have to consult with our paediatric dietitian on whether we can drop by there for a family dinner or not. That disaster with the soft shell crab is more than enough reason to avoid the place.

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