When you think about Maryland food, you think about crab. Purists likely prefer fresh steamed crabs that require a mallet and peeling process. As a deep South dweller, I gravitate to the crab cake combination of a lump of meat mixed with other savory ingredients.
Given its location off the Chesapeake Bay, Baltimore offers plenty of places to get crab in whatever form you desire. Locals, however, are likely to point you away from the touristy Inner Harbor region and toward the historic Lexington Market, which operates like an indoor village of permanently parked food trucks. The market is home to Faidley’s Seafood, which serves what Baltimore Magazine and other local food aficionados have deemed on many occasions the city’s best crab cake. I don’t have nearly the same sample size from among Maryland’s many options, but I can’t see any scenario in which I would disagree with such an assessment.
Walking into Faidley’s provides the kind of experience you’d expect of visiting a fresh seafood market. There are raw sea creatures on ice, on counters, in packages and in cooking vessels everywhere you look. You have myriad opportunities to buy your coveted sea creature of choice and cook it yourself, or you can let the restaurant portion of the operation cook it for you. Unless you live in Baltimore, I’d suggest the latter.
You get one jumbo lump crab cake for about $16 at the Faidley’s counter. A platter that also includes crackers and two sides will cost you about $23. Don’t fret about the cost for just one cake. It’s about the size of two or three cakes at other stellar seafood shops throughout the South, including places I’ve eaten crab like Charleston, Savannah and New Orleans. And, despite excellent efforts all around, all the other folks don’t pack nearly as much meat into their cakes as Faidley’s. What results is a large, lightly browned ball of almost entirely fresh crab meat. And it’s heaven.
There’s a nice list of sides that gives you a choice between a few varied vegetables and starch accompaniments to the main dish. I tried the macaroni and cheese and the greens, and I found both to have great home-cooked flavors. But the star of this ensemble is the heralded crab cake.
We joined a group of what were clearly mostly local diners during our lunch in Lexington Market. From reading reviews about the place, it appears many visitors don’t realize there’s a whole food court-style seating area on the second floor, so don’t miss the stairs that lead up there. And if you want to eat in the historic market, you might want to go ahead and make plans to get there soon. Word on the street in Baltimore is that there are plans for a new market to replace the old structure, which opened all the way back in 1782. That’s just about 20 years after the original land survey that led to the now-famous “Mason-Dixon Line”—which resulted from an effort to settle a border dispute between Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware—and of course just a few years following the formation of the United States as a nation newly independent from British control.
The Mason-Dixon mention is particularly pertinent to this post because I took quite a bit of time bandying about an internal dilemma about whether Maryland is best considered North or South. We focus primarily on Southern cuisine and its traditions for #FoodieScore, and I like to keep that in mind whenever we share more than just a few details about a restaurant.
Our time in Baltimore, though fairly brief, actually helped me resolve my questions about Maryland. As a simple judging factor, we found true Southern sweet tea at most anywhere we looked in the state. (None of that artificially flavored stuff northerners pass off as “sweet tea.” No offense intended whatsoever, but it’s clearly a different flavored beverage.) On a much deeper level, an argument can be made that Maryland is both North and South, as the state fielded soldiers and supporters of both the Union and the Confederacy during the American Civil War from 1861-1865. Our travels through the state coincided with my research on nineteenth century history and visits to multiple battlefield sites in several states.
So, if #FoodieScore must take an official stance on the matter, Maryland fits into our Southern foodie sphere of interest and appreciation. It also fits into the adjoining North. If you ask us though, we’re going to claim its delightful fresh crab and the cakes so perfectly served up by Faidley’s as fine seafood that just happens to come from one of the northernmost places in the South. And we absolutely recommend you try it, and stroll through Lexington Market before or afterward, when you find yourself in Baltimore.
Faidley’s Seafood, 203 N. Paca St., Baltimore, Md. (PARKING: If you need a space, there’s a pay garage across the street.)