Land & Sea Grill
6141 Franconia Rd.
Hours: Lunch 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; no lunch Saturday and Sunday. Dinner 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, 2:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday.
Prices: Lunch soups and appetizers $1.75 to $6.95. Sandwiches, salads and entrees $3.75 to $9.95. Dinner soups and appetizers $2.25 to $6.95. Entrees $9.25 to $19.95.
Cards: Visa, MasterCard and American Express.
Nonsmoking area usually available.
Summer means barbecue, baseball and trips to the beach, but for me it also means feasting on sweet, Chesapeake Bay blue crabs, which are generally plentiful now through September.
Not only are the crabs prepared expertly at the Land & Sea Grill, but, market conditions permitting, there is a daily all-you-can-eat special for $14.95 that compares favorably with most crab houses in Northern Virginia.
As you enter, you are immediately struck by the simple, convivial atmosphere: There's a small bar near the front, some nautical touches and the sound of taped golden oldies from the '50s and '60s. On a typical evening, half or more of the 20 tables are covered in brown paper, the standard table treatment for crab-eating.
Whether you order the all-you-can-eat crab special or just a half-dozen of the medium, large or jumbo crabs, they arrive with their steamed, coral shells sprinkled with J.O. Seafood seasoning from Baltimore, which tends to be slightly saltier than Old Bay seasoning.
But as the name suggests, the Land & Sea Grill is more than a crab house, a selling point that a crab lover can use to reassure a dining companion who is not as enthusiastic about cracking claws and picking out the pieces of sweet, white meat. Indeed, there are several other dishes here that are nearly as good as the crab.
Among the appetizers, don't pass up the spiced shrimp, which was impeccably fresh and perfectly cooked. Another standout is the platter of thick-cut onion rings with a thin, crispy coating.
When it comes to the entrees, seafood has a slight edge, and here you can count on the lightly breaded fried shrimp and a decent broiled fillet of sole.
Noteworthy among the restaurant's offerings is the meaty slab of barbecue ribs ($11.95, but available at dinner only) with a thick coating of tomato-based sauce. The complimentary side dishes of seasoned potato wedges, Italian-style green beans and a tossed salad make this entree an all-around winner.
There are a few stretches of rough road and choppy waters at Land & Sea. The sirloin steak tasted over-tenderized, the clam chowder had too much lemon, the pair of crab cakes were mushy with mayonnaise, and my order of hush puppies hadn't cooked through.
But I'd make a special trip there for the onion rings, ribs and, of course, the crab. The short selection of draft and bottled beer includes the Wild Goose Amber brewed in Cambridge, Md., which bills itself as the "only beer for crab."
A smooth, creamy dessert, such as the graham-cracker crusted cheesecake or the key lime pie, provides a satisfying, filling finish.