Although Capt. Crab's is a brand new restaurant, don't be surprised if you have a feeling of deja vu when you walk in.
"I've been here before," you'll mutter to yourself. "Isn't this Wendy's or Roy Rogers?" Sure enough, except for the pretty little raw bar over to one side, this place looks just like a fast-food joint.
But your biggest mistake would be to turn around and leave. For hidden behind the shiny plastic and bright lights is an excellent seafood restaurant, extraordinarily so when you consider the low prices. (If you want to have your cake and eat it too -- low prices plus candlelight and real cutlery -- you can use Capt. Crab's as a carryout.)
All the seafood here is steamed, boiled, fried or raw -- no broiling here -- and there's practically no fish.
The raw bar is a delight -- spotlessly clean, with perfectly fresh clams and oysters and low prices. As the restaurant's name makes clear, crabs are a specialty, and they're first-rate.
If you're a hammer-and-fingernails-style crab lover, you can have them with the traditional Old Bay seasoning, or can order the more subtly flavored garlic crabs -- in either case, big, fresh and meaty.
Softshell crabs are first-rate, too: small, delicate, lightly fried in fresh oil so they virtually squirt juice at the first bite.
Maryland crab soup here isn't the best we've had, but it's very good nonetheless. Clam chowder isn't stingy with the clams and it's not plagued with an excess of flour thickening -- a well-flavored soup.
Most of the frying is done beautifully here, with fresh oil, thin, crackly batters, a minimum of breading, and virtually no oil penetration into the seafood. The skill is most evident in the fried clams and oysters -- big plump beauties, full of briny flavor and barely enclosed by a light, golden batter.
The fried sea scallops are good, too, if not quite as spectacular as the clams and oysters, fresh and tender, but just a touch dry. There's fried catfish, too, pleasant but unremarkable, and certainly no match for the oysters, clams or scallops. The fried shrimp have been somewhat dry, and the cooking seems to be a bit heavy-handed.
No problems with the boiled shrimp, though: fresh-tasting and tender. Have them with either the traditional cayenne pepper spicing or, for something a little more mild, garlic and herbs.
Crab cakes are one of the toughest tests for a restaurant, and although Capt. Crab's may not score at the very top of the class, they pass very nicely indeed. The flavor is very good, the frying is nicely light and the crab isn't mushy. Although there's a fair amount of binder in the mix, it doesn't dominate the cake.
Side orders are generally excellent: remarkably good parslied red potatoes, decent french fries, crunchy rough-cut slaw that's not oversweet. And for dessert there's a key lime pie that actually tastes like real lime.
Because Capt. Crab's is so new, our comments here are a bit tentative -- as the restaurant matures, things could change.
We hope that doesn't happen, for Capt. Crab's at this early stage offers remarkably good seafood at a very reasonable price.