MORGAN'S SEAFOOD House is the source of the good smells that drift across the Maine Avenue wharf. They issue from Ricky Morgan's line of crab steamers and great trays of spiced shrimp, which are the only ready-to-eat seafood you can buy on the docks.

"We've been here 11 years now," said Morgan, a tall and powerful, soft-spoken man who was trying to keep one eye on the shop and another on two of his children who, although not very big, were wound up very tight. If the store didn't stand on dry land, he'd probably spend half his afternoons fishing them out of the water.

"This place was a dream of my father (Morris Morgan, who died last November). We had Morgan's on Georgia Avenue, but he came down here all the time, and it bothered him that there was no minority-owned business on the dock. So he talked to the city, and we took out a lease. We kind of stumbled along and learned the hard way what we could do that was different."

He looked out over the dock for a moment. "We got some good advice from the established people here also. We started cooking the crabs and shrimp, which was a lot of trouble as far as getting a city license was concerned, but it went over real well, right away."

On a peak day Morgan's will cook up hundreds of bushels of crabs, spiced to your taste, using live steam that does 'em up red in 10 minutes. "You can't cook them as well at home," he asserts with unassailable logic, "because by the time the crabs in the top of your steamer are done, the ones in the bottom are overdone. This steam under pressure gets to them all at once, and they cook through without drying out."

If you can't come to Morgan's, Morgan's will come to you. "We have a complete catering service," the owner said. "We can put on a crab feast, from 10 bushels up, or anything you like: chicken, ribs, fish, all the side dishes andtrimmings. We just put on a two-day affair for Mayor Barry, but it doesn't have to be anything that big. There are people who assume that because you're a minority company you can't give full- line quality service; I make sure we give everybody top-hat service, because that's the way we made our name and that's the only way we'll keep it."

About crabs, now, on which Morgan should be an expert if anyone is. How about your fabled Wye River crab, say, compared to your average Chesapeake Bay crab, and that bay crab compared to your North Carolina crab, and your Gulf Coast crab, and so forth?

He smiled. "The only difference is, female crabs are harder to pick. Otherwise, it's just a matter of how you were raised, what you're used to. We have people come in, they wouldn't even consider eating a jimmy (male), and we have others who wouldn't touch a female if you paid them. I can look at a crab and pretty much tell you where it came from, but a hard crab is a hard crab."

If you want to argue the matter, or order up some evidence, Morgan's number is 488-8145. -- Hank Burchard.