Editors' pick

Stoney's Seafood House

Crabs, Seafood
$$$$ ($15-$24)
Stoney's Seafood House photo
Mark Gail/The Post
'

Editorial Review

From Dining at the Dock, Weekend, June 2010:

This Stoney's, the oldest of three locations, has expanded in the past few years and now extends along about 100 yards of waterfront, offering a feast for the eyes in what is still a cozy setting.

Outdoor dining options include floating or stationary decks, an upper-level tiki bar or tables on the Point (a scenic extended arm of Stoney's property) if it's not hosting a wedding. And if it is, you get a nice view of the festivities.

Notable: Weekend concerts frequently benefit local charities and may have a $5 charge.

--Ann Cameron Siegal, June 2010

Dozens of free dock slips plus small pull-up spots for kayakers. Overnighting costs $1 per foot per night for power and water, otherwise free.

By Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Magazine
Sunday, Aug. 1, 2004

There are no obvious markers pointing the way to Stoney's Seafood House, 50 miles southeast of downtown Washington on Calvert County's Broomes Island, but you know you're getting closer as the signs for fresh shrimp, crab, scallops, corn and peaches grow more plentiful along the roadside. Advertised on homemade signs and sold from inside tents or off the backs of trucks by local farmers and fishermen, the edible treasures practically shout "summer!" and inevitably whet your appetite for a meal on the water.

To that end, Stoney's is one of any number of watery directions a seafood lover might take outside the city. This one, named for co-owner Phillip Stone, a Calvert native, has even replicated itself since opening in 1988, with two other locations, in Prince Frederick (1993) and in Solomons (2003).

"Inside or out?" the hostess asks at the entrance. "Out," you should answer if you want the most vivid crab-eating experience. Frankly, a post-hurricane (and ongoing) renovation has left the interior of the Stoney's on Broomes Island with a shiny gloss and "new car" smell, which takes away from the down-and-dirty appeal of a crab joint with some years behind it. Beyond the mounted fish and hanging nets of the main dining room, the outdoor space unfolds on two levels, one of which is a solid deck, the other a wooden barge that creaks and moans as it bobs up and down in the water, gently rubbing against the dock. Add to these sounds the putt-putt of motorboats and the flip-flop of sandals and you've got a fine summer concert to eat by.

The star of the show is crab, of course, which can be sampled almost a dozen different ways: It comes as a dip, as a salad, in bite-size "balls" or in excellent, crusty-edged half-pound cakes the size of muffins. All three of the kitchen's soups have crab in them, and if you order a Bloody Mary, a claw dangles on the rim of the glass. There's a sandwich plump with soft-shell crabs (in season), and then there's the primary reason for my visit: hard-shell crabs, gently steamed, accented with a peppery, brick-red seasoning and served on tables spread with brown paper. (Note: Hard-shells are not a meal for the Felix Ungers of the world.)

The uninitiated can ask a server to show them the ropes, as one of my companions did. With finesse and speed, the waitress broke apart a crustacean, separating meat from shell in less than a minute. "It's a lot of work, but it's pretty good," she said as she completed the task. She had that right. While the price tag for fresh crab -- $36 for a dozen of mixed sizes, $56 for a dozen jumbo-size creatures on my last visit -- reminds me that crab is a luxury, the clean, sweet, sea-scented taste is sensational. And you'd be hard-pressed to find a restaurant so close to its source of ingredients. "Where do you get your crabs from?" one of my tablemates wondered on another visit. Squinting into the sun and pointing at the water, our young guide replied, "They're all coming from the Patuxent River there." Not every employee is as forthcoming as those two, but most of the staff does an admirable job of seeing that you get what you need in a timely fashion.

Plain is prime at Stoney's, where I prefer anything steamed to anything fried. Steamed shrimp (a half-pound makes a nice appetizer for two) with melted butter proves tender and sweet, a first-class introduction to lunch or dinner. Meaty cherrystone clams also taste recently plucked from the water. From the fryer, however, emerge virtually bulletproof hush puppies, stiff battered shrimp and dull rockfish, all of which too closely resemble something you could find in the supermarket freezer case.

Of the soups, I'm partial to the straightforward seafood chowder, crammed with scallops, clams, carrots and potatoes, and dusted with Old Bay seasoning for a little heat. Cream of crab soup is tiresome after a few spoonfuls. And "the old time Stone family recipe" for Broomes Island crab soup, its red broth thick with lima beans, celery, corn and more, tastes too much like something I've had from a can (albeit one with a reliable label on it). Beer is the best partner to much of this food, but for something punchier -- and if you're not the driver -- try the no-holds-barred rum runner cocktail.

A customer doesn't have to eat seafood to appreciate Stoney's. The sleeper on the menu turns out to be barbecued pork, sweet and smoky shreds of which are tucked inside a soft bun and presented as a sandwich with coleslaw. The soft, warm meat and the crunchy, cool cabbage make a winning combination.

The key to success at Stoney's is finding what works and sticking with it. So don't save room for dessert, at least not the strawberry shortcake served here. The confection involves mountains of canned whipped cream and a book-size slab of yellow cake that might as well be Hostess. Consider picking up something sweet on the way home instead. You can't beat a peach, fresh off the back of a truck, and there are several sources likely to be calling out to you.