Road Trip

Feeling Crabby? Head East!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

WHERE: St. Michaels and Tilghman Island, Md.

WHY: Bushels of blue crabs, fishermen's watering holes and skipjacks.

HOW FAR: About 13 miles from start to finish.

Get your mallet, paring knife and paper towels ready, because . . . they're back. Tuesday marks the start of Maryland's crabbing season, and by next weekend, the first crop of blue crabs will start appearing on docks and dining room tables throughout the Chesapeake Bay region.

For blues straight off the boat, upscale St. Michaels and its more low-key neighbor Tilghman Island deliver. The Talbot County towns are ridiculously close to the water's bounty, with fishermen pulling the crustaceans from Eastern Bay, Knapp's Narrows, the Miles River and the Chesapeake. The season runs through Dec. 15; after that, the critters are flown in from Louisiana, Florida and Texas.

Crabs have long been integral to the region's livelihood -- and appetites. During Colonial times, St. Michaels was a boat-building center, but in the 19th century, it shifted to seafood harvesting and processing. In the 1930s, the town was shipping 1 million pounds of crabmeat per year. Since then, tourism has supplanted seafood as the region's chief moneymaker.

In warmer months, a crush of visitors arrives by boat or car, eager to pick sweet meat out of red claws. Even celebrities make cameo appearances, including Michael Jackson, who visited the Inn at Perry Cabin last year, as well as former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney, who own homes nearby.

When it comes to Maryland's blue crabs, however, you don't need armed Secret Service agents or bodyguards to crack the hard shell. Most establishments supply the appropriate hardware. And if you're still struggling, there are always crab cakes.

-- Ben Chapman

© 2008 The Washington Post Company