Bobby's Great American Crab House serves the kind of crab cake that made Maryland famous in the style that has made southern hostesses so renowned.

Don't be mistaken -- this is strictly a roadside eatery where dressing up is taken as an indication that you won't be eating crab. But Bobby's has enough good food -- and enough thoughtful touches -- to make this a regular stop on your rounds of neighborhood restaurants.

Though the menu offers oysters, shrimp, scallops and lobster, the emphasis here is clearly on the crabs, which appear not only on your plate, but ornamentally almost everywhere you look. Even the lights above the rear booths were crab cages in an earlier life.

With that in mind, you might wish to start out with a bowl of crab and shrimp gumbo, a hearty red soup full of shrimp, crab and vegetables; it's more intense and flavorful than the lighter and creamier crab soup, thick as it is with bits of crab meat. Deep-fried miniature crab cakes coated with tempura batter, called crab fluffs, would have been better had the batter been less mushy, for they were full of sweet, delicately seasoned meat. Crab meat cocktail was a generous portion of crab (and shell bits, unfortunately) accompanied by a very good homemade sauce flecked with horseradish. Spiced, steamed shrimp, clams and oysters round out the hors d'oeuvres offerings.

The only nonseafood appetizer was a platter of potato skins filled with diced tomato and a sharp cheese sauce that tasted canned.

Bobby's all-you-can-eat crab feast seems to be the biggest draw on the menu, and on a busy night you can hear the tap-tap-tapping of wooden mallets almost before you enter. Despite the noise, this is a fun place to bring a crowd. And extra long booths in the center of the restaurant encourage group crab feasts.

You can hardly go wrong with any of the crab entrees, whether it's a lightly breaded, sauteed soft-shell order or chunky crab meat, Norfolk style. Bobby's crab cakes are wonderful -- plump, golden brown patties bursting with sweet crab meat and bound with just enough filling to hold them together.

A seafood sampler (shrimp, scallops and a crab cake) and an order of sauteed scallops both took a back seat to the crab entrees, though the seafood itself was tender and decent. Despite its sweetness, the lobster was a bit on the chewy side.

Look for the specials at Bobby's. A recent offering included one pound of king crab, a crab cake, tangy cole slaw, french fries and two corn fritters -- not inexpensive, but certainly a good buy at $11.50.

Melted butter appears as a side order on the menu, though I don't know why anyone would need extra butter considering the lavish amount used on a side order of steamed broccoli and corn on the cob. Both were drenched in the stuff but were otherwise very good and tasted fresh.

Depending upon who waits on you, service here can be knowledgeable and efficient or knowledgeable and forgetful. We were delighted one evening when our waitress volunteered to dissever an order of king crab for us, deftly avoiding any contact with the meat itself. But we were disappointed with one Captain Paul (that's what his cap read) who forgot to bring one companion's lobster and never bothered to clear the table until after we left.