Why do any of us leave home? Obviously, there’s not one answer. All of us who have said goodbye to our family and friends, leaving behind the place we grew up, did so for our own reasons. Some leave with a smile, happy to be no longer tethered to a faulty foundation that was home. For others, leaving means opportunity, but not without paying a huge emotional toll. When you leave home to conquer the world, you realize there are certain things you’re going to miss- mom’s hugs, catch with dad, a pet left behind, close friends. But as time goes by, you begin to crave certain aspects of home you had no idea you were ever going to miss. For me, the one thing I didn’t consider when I packed up the car and headed west was how much I was going to miss the food I grew up on. Specifically, Utz potato chips and the Maryland blue crab.
It’s been ten years since I left Maryland, and every time I go back home I get a few bags of Utz BBQ potato chips. They just taste like my childhood in a way Lays BBQ never will. However, these visits have also been during the holidays when crabs are out of season. So several months ago, when my wife and I decided spend our daughter’s 2nd birthday on Aug. 2 with my parents back in MD, I knew immediately that we had to spend one day on the Chesapeake Bay’s eastern shore and dig into my home state’s greatest culinary tradition. And for our family, the best place to do just that is the Crab Claw in St. Michaels, MD. But first, we got to get there.
Very few people I know can take the red eye from L.A. to the east coast and get any significant sleep. I was able to once, before I was a married or a parent, and only because the fudge (very special fudge) I ingested before going through security had kicked in and zonked me out. That was a good flight. This time, however, I’m with a little girl who is about to turn two and doesn’t understand what in the name of Minnie Mouse is going on. Just a few minutes ago she was playing ball with two other toddlers in a big room, with lots of people, chairs, and bags all around. Now she’s in this very narrow space, in a chair that’s definitely not her car seat, with mommy and daddy leaning over her going “Ssshhh, ssshhhh.” She ends up sleeping two out of the five hours we’re in the air. I get about an hour, and my amazing wife who has been holding our girl almost the whole time dozes off for a mere 20 minutes. We get off the plane and get picked up by my mom and dad. Karina and I are moody and exhausted, but Ava is happy to see grandma and grandpa.
We spend the first day resting and relaxing, eating Utz BBQ and drinking Yuengling (also not available on the west coast). The next day we make the drive to the Chesapeake and spend the night at our family friends’ shore house. I eat some more Utz and drink some more Yuengling. Morning comes and the day I’ve been waiting years for has finally arrived- the day I once again have crabs! We load into the car and head over to St. Michaels.
Known as “the town that fooled the British,” St. Michaels is a place steeped in history, original architecture, and, of course, crabs. Frederick Douglass grew up a slave on nearby Mount Misery farm. During the War of 1812, as the British Navy sailed up the Bay, the town used a little trickery to survive a pre-dawn attack. The citizens kept their buildings dark while hanging lanterns in the tree line behind them. The British aimed its canons at the trees, over-shooting their intended targets, and the town was spared, hence the nickname.
My dad parks the car in a nearby parking lot and we walk over to the Crab Claw Restaurant. Family owned and operated since 1965, this place does crabs the right way- steamed, doused in Old Bay seasoning, some malt vinegar and melted butter on the side. Resting on the water’s edge, we find a table we like and get set-up with mallets, silverware, brown paper covering the table, and a roll of paper towels. Our server Sydney comes over and the order goes in: a dozen crabs, a pitcher of beer, one basket of fried clams to snack on, and chicken strips for Ava. We drink our beer, admire the view, and thank mother nature for sparing us the usual humidity. After a few minutes, Sydney comes walking over with crabs on a tray, steam still rising off the shells. With my parents sitting across from me, Karina to my right, and Ava in her highchair at the end, I can’t help but think that life doesn’t get any better than this. I grab my mallet and with a smile start cracking, it feels so good to be home.