It would be impossible to escape noticing a five-foot crab attached to the top of a building anywhere, but on Winchester Avenue in Martinsburg, WV, it's a real eyecatcher. An icon on the street since 2005, it lured me in once to buy a bushel of hard shell crabs in 2006.
At that time, the Chesapeake Crab Company seemed more like a seafood market with its picnic tables and basic menu. The restaurant business is tough enough, and in a fickle economy it is doubly so. The fact that Chesapeake Crab Company has been in business for seven-anda- half years makes it worthy enough for another look and taste.
Make no bones about it, the restaurant is not situated at the beach, and there is no West Virginia scenic mountain vista to enjoy. The building is likely a former Esso gas station and is located right on a busy street. It's not a place for ambiance, but the folks who work there give a hale and hearty greeting and are eager to please.
One enters at the center of the building which has seating. To the right is the section with the food counter and to the left is another area for tables which strikes me as a great place for a club meeting or casual party. In total, the establishment can seat about 40. The decor is appropriate for casual seafood with an artful seaside mural.
We were a hungry and chatty party of three and discerned that owners, Brett and Jackie Ballam, were originally from the Eastern Shore of Maryland. When he retired from the police force, they moved to Sharpsburg. Missing the quality and style of seafood that they were accustomed to on Kent Island, they decided to do their own thing. Armed with nothing but their personal taste, family recipes, and their ability to cook for their friends and family, they found the building in Martinsburg and were on their way.
Oysters Rockefeller, really? Don't be fooled by casual dining at Chesapeake Crab Company. I ordered this "just to see" and I was surprised not only at the splendid flavor, but the oysters were large. It is the real deal, perfectly executed. My tastebuds were fully alerted.
One of my companions ordered the fish sandwich. Yawn, right? Although it is called the Big Grouper, the menu description says it is a filet so we fully expected a square filet that fits on a typical round bun. When the sandwich arrived, it looked like the whole huge fish! Gorgeous moist fish in a perfectly golden crust the size of flattened football, the sandwich could easily feed two. Oh, one can never eat a boxed frozen patty again.
Diner number two is a picky little thing. "Take this off, put that on the side, send that back, can we change this?" She said the crab imperial was amongst the best she had ever eaten. I don't know. I didn't get any.
It was served with generous lumps of crab meat and butterflied shrimp tucked alongside then covered with a delicate yet tangy (a hint of dijon?) lemon butter sauce and baked. It's not a dish you'd think the local fishmonger would whip up, but it's a clear winner.
I ordered the Po Boy with the clams and scallops option--pick two of Grouper, clams, shrimp, oysters, scallops. Fried and topped with melted cheese, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, and a spicy remoulade, this large sandwich is on a great fresh sub roll. Clearly, the seafood is fresh not frozen and perfect in size- -21-25 count shrimp and U10-20 scallops.
Our menu choices each included side dishes that did not disappoint. We tried homemade stewed tomatoes, old fashioned cucumber and onions, and homemade coleslaw. I make my own cucumber and onion salad, and this one is better; it's the recipe I wish I had. The rough-shred coleslaw is my favorite style--lots of crunch with a creamy tang. We heard the stewed tomatoes are a secret family recipe--very nice.
Stuffed to the gills, pun intended, I ordered three items for take out- -shrimp salad and two soups. The shrimp salad is outstanding and made with nice large shrimp--not pitiful watery salad shrimp. The shrimp salad was so good that the next time I have to take a covered dish somewhere, I'm taking my fancy bowl to the Chesapeake Crab Company and telling them to fill it up. I will be pleased to take credit for this dish of plentiful shrimp with some crunch from celery and a creamy mayonnaise dressing with some kick. The scallop and mushroom chowder is made with sauteed button mushrooms and a touch of cream with plenty of scallops. It's like the surf and turf of the soup world-- a taste of the earth meets a taste of the sea. It works and is delicious. I'm a big fan of vegetable soup and the Maryland crab soup would be great without the crabmeat and seafood spices. It has a rich hearty broth with lovely chunks of vegetables. The crab meat takes it to another level.
My biggest realization is the fact that I can get great seafood dishes locally year-round. I don't have to plan a trip to Chincoteague or make a crab run to Hampton. I don't have to wait for summer. I don't have to wait for a month ending in "r." I don't have to get dressed up to go to a fancy restaurant. I can get take out if I want. It's right here, it tastes like summer, and I'm so happy about it!
The Chesapeake Crab Company sells some sides by the pound, platters, seafood by the pound, bushel, or dozen depending on type and they offer carryout, on-site catering, and crab feed parties.
Don't forget the barbecue--ribs and pulled pork are cooked on site. Want the perfect sweet for an endnote--try a homemade cake pop. Visit them at www.ChesapeakeCrabCo.biz or like them on Facebook as Chesapeake Crab Company.