In the Mid-Atlantic region, summer often conjures images of sitting around a picnic table covered in newspaper picking blue crabs.
The hard shells are typically steamed and smothered in Old Bay seasoning, or the meat is picked and lumped together into crab cakes.
In the August issue of Delaware Today, writers for the magazine sought out the best crab cakes in Delaware.
On the list was Sambo’s Tavern in Leipsic, where the crab cakes are the most popular item on the menu.
“Crab cakes used to have a lot of, they used to use like a cracker meal to make them, so there was a lot of filler in them,” said Ike Burrows, who owns and runs Sambo’s with his wife of 28 years, Elva. “We done away with that, and we just use enough egg and flour and you have to pattycake them when you put them in the fryer, and it makes a difference.”
The no-frills, family-owned tavern with wood-paneled walls overlooks the Leipsic River, a short boat ride away from the Delaware Bay, from where their crabs originate. Ike’s father, Samuel, nicknamed Sambo, opened the place 32 years ago.
Burrows said all of the snow last winter and the mild conditions from the winter prior took a toll on the crab population this season, but he said business remains steady, with customers hailing from as far away as Australia and Sweden.
The Chesapeake Bay is the largest blue crab fishery in the world, raking in 10 times more crabs than the Delaware Bay. In a good year, crabbers might harvest 10 million pounds of the tasty crustaceans; a bad year nets about two million.
And while there has been growing concern about the general decline in stock over the last 10 years, Chuck Epifanio, a professor of marine science at the University of Delaware’s School of Marine Science and Policy in Lewes, said it’s not likely that crabs will become extinct.
“The females mate only once in their whole life,” Epifanio explained. “And resulting from this mating, there can be over a million eggs in any given brood of eggs. And a given female from this one mating can produce as many as four or five different broods of eggs.”
Describing them as top predators, Epifanio said blue crabs perform an indispensable role in the estuary in paring down numbers of species that they eat. Blue crabs, he said, eat small fish, large fish – if they can catch them – and a variety of worms and other crustaceans, even other crabs.
The genus and species of blue crabs is Callinectes sapidus, which directly translates to pretty swimming crab that’s good to eat.
For someone who researches, studies and highly respects blue crabs, Epifanio doesn’t feel guilty eating the tasty critters. That’s because the self-described “superfan” of crab cakes said that if given the chance, crabs would turn the tables on him.
Each month, WHYY’s First produces a companion story that pairs with a feature in Delaware Today magazine.