I’ve made some really great friends here in D.C., ones who have broadened my perspective on the city and its surroundings and made me see it for more than just embassy events and Happy Hour. One place I’ve recently become familiar with is Herrington Harbour on the Chesapeake Bay, where a couple of cool kids and I sometimes set sail from on sunny weekends mornings. On our latest trip out to the Harbour, we decided to fuel up for the trip and get something into our bellies to soak up those daytime Pacifico’s. It seems we were in luck because there happened to be some little festival going on with booths and arts and crafts and even a stage with live music. There were burgers and dogs, ginormous snow cones, funnel cake, kettle corn. I was disappointed to see there were no deep fried candy bars or bloomin’ onions, as I am a particularly avid fan of these. There was something, however, that instantly caught my gastronome (gastrophile?) friend’s and my fancy. Nestled in between the crab cakes and the fried fish were some simple looking soft shell crabs, which proved to hit the spot.
And they sure did. For only $8, two fried soft shelled blue crabs were piled on top of a soft burger bun and served with a juicy tomato wedge and some whatever-lettuce. The surprisingly wide variety of condiments included two types of cocktail sauce, a few different types of mustard, tartar sauce, vinegar, ketchup (hopefully just for the fries) and hot sauce. Huge jars of pickles were there customers to help themselves to. Still not having very extensively experienced the whole Chesapeake Bay crab thing, I decided to go au natural, adding only a bit of tartar sauce to the underside of the bread, in case I later changed my mind. The latter ended up being tossed aside as soon as I realized that there were two animals underneath it and that one would have been enough to fill me up for hours. So, I ditched the sandwich element and went straight in for the crab.
The crabs were absolutely delicious and it was quite the satisfying feeling to be able to eat the whole animal, claws and all. The appendages were crunchy and disappeared quickly, taking the place of fries pretty well. The carapace had a bite to it but wasn’t too chewy thankfully, allowing the tender, mild white flesh and mushy, sweet yellow guts to break forth and flood my mouth with flavor. I loved the belly the most, as it was buttery and smooth, almost like uni though not so murky in flavor. It coated my tongue with its velvet texture.
On retrospect, it might have not been a bad idea to keep the bread, because although the crab was wonderful in itself, there is no denying the fact that this is one fatty little animal and deep frying it certainly doesn’t make it lighter. Having something to soak up the bit of extra greasy on the shell and offer textural contrast with its pillowy softness might have been nice and the tomato with some tangy condiment certainly would have cleaned up the oil a bit as well. I guess I’m just not willing to risk losing any of that natural crab flavor just yet. Maybe once it becomes something I eat regularly I will experiment a bit more.
Calpyso Bay is apparently a popular place for locals and visitors of the area alike to chill out after a long day in the sun and gradually descend into inebriation as preparation for what the night has in store. The way to do this? Fresh squeezed orange and grapefruit punches. Vodka takes on a stealthy guise in these innocent looking drinks. Half of one was enough to make my dehydrated face feel pretty woozy indeed. Freshly squeezed (in juicers clearly visible at the bar) is a huge plus.
While I loved the punches, I didn’t care too much for the food at Calypso. The one bite of a burger, although very thick and with a nice char, was pretty bland in flavor, with the “crab sauce” on top either not containing enough crab at all or having it chopped into tiny bits which weren’t enough to carry the flavor. The steamed mussels were okay, though not local and overcooked a bit to where they seemed shriveled and difficult to get out of the shell. The chicken quesadilla was kind of a no-brainer crowd pleaser with its gooey cheese and crispy flour tortilla, though the chunks of chicken within were as bland as I would expect them to be served in a restaurant with the word “bay” in its name. I ended up having some of the fish taco, made with cod. I guess the gimmick of the thing was that it came wrapped in two “tortillas,” a soft flour tortilla wrapped around a dry, hard blue corn one. Didn’t really work for me, especially because it reminded me of some horrendous Taco Bell creation and they just seemed a bit silly, especially just a few days after trying some of the best tacos I’ve ever had in the States. The flour tortilla was rigid, not really crispy but not warmed through enough to be soft and thick either. The blue corn “chip” inside was also just kind of rigid and hard, not really crispy in a nice comforting oily way, but stale and tasting of dust. The fish inside would have been fine had it not been crumbled into strangely small little bits. The texture reminded me minced pork – it wasn’t too moist and was definitely not tender enough to be an enjoyable filet. The pickled red onions were fine but very intense in acidity and the latter wasn’t really balanced out by anything fatty or smokey. The fries were unbelievably good here – crunchy, with big grains of salt coating the exterior, a great thickness. Next time I’m going to go with a plate of these and some crushes.