Atmosphere: Harborside, surrounded by crabs, boats and the bay.

Price range: Crabs, $1.15 each or $13.80 a dozen for large; Entrees, mainly $5 to $8.

Reservations: For large groups only.

Credit cards: Cash only.

Hours: Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Monday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; closed Mondays from Labor Day until Memorial Day.

Special facilities: Large parking lot, two-hour boat docking, high chairs, dock accessible to wheel-chairs or staff will carry handicapped to upstairs restaurant; all entrees available for carry-out.

When you've finished reading James Michener's new book, "Chesapeake," and decide to explore the area yourself, you'll want to include St. Michaels, Md., one of the earliest Eastern Shore settlements.

You won't be able to see the author's current home, hidden on a back road outside of St. Michaels, but you cant take a waling tour of the old part of town that dates back to the 1660s and visit the St. Mary's Square Museum, which is open on weekends.

You will also want to see the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum with its floating exhibit and display of water craft from log canoes to skipjacks. And right next door to the museum you can sample what the modern Chesapeake Bay is all about by dining at the Crab Claw restaurant.

Then we arrived at noon one recent Saturday, the Crab Claw was busy, noisy and cluttered with other tourists like ourselves. We wended our way past the stacked baskets of live crabs awaiting their doom and found a seat on the wharf at a gray picnic table. Shaded by a large umbrella, we watched yachts maneuvering past us in the small harbor.

After we had ordered, I took my son to the back of the dock to watch the action underneath the overhanging second story of the restaurant. My son was fascinated with the scene. Crabs being fed into large pots, steamed and dished out onto trays; softshell clams being hosed down and packed into little buckets for steaming and serving.

The scene looked hopelessly confusing, with customers from the stand-up bar wandering in among the baskets and buckets and the loudspeaker summoning parties to the upstairs, glassed-in restaurant. But the young people doing the cooking and serving threaded efficiently through the maze, delivering trays of whole crabs or prepared dished from the indoor kitchen to the waiting tables.

It wasn't long before our own platters were before us. We passed up the pick-your-own dozen of large crabs for $13.80, which would have been enough for two dedicated crab pickers or three dilettantes. Since we had been dismantling our own crabs for three days, I decided to let someone else prepare my crab imperial, $6.95, which included a choice of vegetable and salad or french fries.

My husband had the backfin crab salad, $4.50, and an order of french fries, 75 cents. Both entrees had plenty of crab and were very good. We could have chosen the seafood platter including soft crab, crab cake, shrimp, fried clams and fish for $8.50; one soft crab or one crabcake for $4.75, or two of either for $6.50.

The only non-aquatic entree is fried chicken, $4.75.You also can get a hamburger for $1.25.

Oysters are available in season.

There is no children's menu, so my 5-year-old ordered the backfin crabcake on a bun with coleslaw, $2.50, and the baby had a crab dog, 90 cents. The latter was very interesting, a hot dog on a stick wrapped in crabmeat batter and deep fried. But beware of the cup of catsup that accompanies the hotdog - it is spiked withe horseradish.

For an appetizer, we split a bucket of steamed softshell clams (similar to the Ipswich variety) with broth and drawn butter, $3.95. Also available are clams casino, $3.25, or cherrystone clams on the half shell, $2.50.

The menu is the same in the upstairs restaurants, where there are more amenities, air conditioning and less noise. But, barring inclement weather, the downstairs wharf is infinitely more interesting.

Our bill for a family of four, including tax and tips was $26.85.

The entire restaurant seats 300 and employs 100 young people in two shifts to do the cooking and serving.

At noon on a summer weekend there were two charter busloads of tourists already there, and we were told we could give our name and wait approximately 15 minutes for seating upstairs. We found ourselves a place on the dock immediately, but when we were ready to leave, another family was waiting to take our table.

St. Michaels is a two-to three-hour drive from the Washington area, following Rte. 50 to Rte. 33.