Crab Count Down
10 Tempting Truths to Lure You to the Rotary Crab Feast
By Diana Beechener
For 63 years, regardless of heat, humidity or the score of the Orioles game, the first Friday in August has brought joy to Maryland summers. Instead of suffering a Rt. 50 traffic snarl, smart people follow the scent of Old Bay to the annual Annapolis Rotary crab feast. As Rotarians put the final touches on the August 1 big eat at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium, Bay Weekly counts down the top 10 things you should know about the feast.
10. It’s the Place to Be
Every Friday night brings lots of good things to do, but only once each year do you get to crack crabs with seven percent of the city of Annapolis.
Not for nothing does the Annapolis Rotary Crab Feast call itself one of the world’s largest. You can score a personal best, eating more crabs than you’ve ever imagined, for only $55. Together, you and more than 2,800 crab lovers could probably crack the Guinness World Record book if feats of gluttony weren’t a thing of the past. Even seeing such a sight is worth the price of admission. It’s the place to be, and you need to be there.
“If you’re going to eat crabs once this year, you won’t find a better deal. And it’s for the right reason,” says crab feast chairwoman Lisa Knoll.
9. It’s Okay to Eat Crabs
There is no denying that the Chesapeake blue crab is in trouble. Over-fishing, a threatened home and this year’s cold spring jeopardized Maryland’s state crustacean and favorite fare. To save the species, both commercial and recreational crabbers have had to cut back their catch.
Cracking crabs at the Rotary feast need not weigh on your conscience, though. Until Maryland crabs return to robustness, Shoreline Seafood the feast’s provisioner is importing the bulk of the feast’s crustaceans from Louisiana, North Carolina and Delaware.
“Only about 20 percent of the crabs this year will be local,” says Knoll, so you can eat your fill without fear. For those who worry, the Department of Natural Resources offers a reprieve.
“We have regulated this year’s crab catch to guard the wellbeing of the species,” says DNR spokeswoman Olivia Campbell. “So everyone can enjoy with clear conscience crabs caught legally by our commercial and recreational crabbers.”
8. Here’s Neither Waste Nor Want
General admission to the feast is self-serve as well as all-you-can-eat. But the Rotarians’ rule is avoid waste. If you take too many crabs, pass them to a neighbor. Eat what’s on your table before refilling.
You’re welcome to eat all you want, but you’ve got to eat at the table. If you’re desperate for a doggie bag, see a Rotarian after the feast.
“This year we’re bagging any leftover crabs to sell after the feast,” Knoll says. By selling the excess crab, the Rotary hopes to eliminate waste.
7. You’ll Find Kindred Community
Crab sharing knits you into a community. As you pass a crab or request a claw, you’ll meet wonderfully diverse people united by a shared passion and a common hunger. You’re one among them, so you can give over wondering where you belong. This is your city; these are your people.
6. It’s a Feast for the Eyes, as Well
Even the most avid crab cracker needs a moment to digest. Look around, and you’ll see amazing sights.
Supping on steamed crabs is a grisly business. Legs are rendered from bodies, mallets thwacking, claws popping, thin knife blades jimmying shells and spices spraying as fingers dig into tender meat. That sight is multiplied 2,000 times over on this night.
There’s more than one way to crack a crab. Study technique, write a book, make a movie, paint a mural. There’s more to do here than eat.
5. The Sides Are Spectacular
Though 400 bushels will be consumed, crabs aren’t the only bountiful option at the Rotary feast. This is a smorgasbord featuring 3,400 ears of homegrown Maryland corn, 1,800 hot dogs, 150 pounds of barbecued beef (both donated by Adam’s the Place for Ribs) and 130 gallons of vegetable crab soup.
Get into the spirit with free-flowing beer and soda. Sample vintages from Barefoot Wines at a tasting tent before cracking into a crab.
If you’ve room for more, buy discounted scoops from Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. The Annapolis Ben & Jerry’s is donating ice cream and scoopers to the Rotary Crab Feast. They’ll arrive with ice cream about an hour and a half after the first crab is cracked. Then for $2, feasters can get a serving to support Rotary.
You can also satisfy your sweet tooth at the bake sale. For $1, purchase a chance in the cake raffle in hopes of taking home fresh cakes baked at local stores or in Rotarian kitchens.
4. Self-Service Isn’t the Only Way to Go
If driving to Ocean City has left you afraid of long lines, you can shell out for table service. In the reserved seating section, a table for 10 runs $1,100. You and nine friends will endure no lines, for there’s a special entrance. Rotarians wait on you, hauling trays of food and drink to table. New this year, Barefoot Wine & Bubbly uncorks its vintages for you.
3. It’s a Good Cause
Each claw you crack funds the Annapolis Rotary. Last year’s feast earned the Rotarians $62,100 to grant to local charities and non-profit groups. Rotary pays its own administrative costs; every dollar earned after expenses goes directly to good works within the community.
Last year’s feast funded 33 groups, including the Annapolis Maritime Museum, the Anne Arundel County Food Bank, Friends of Arundel Seniors, Hospice of the Chesapeake, Annapolis Wellness House, Arundel Lodge, Maryland Therapeutic Riding, United Cerebral Palsy of Southern Maryland, Victim Fund and the YWCA.
In 63 years, the feast has raised over $1 million.
After the mess is cleaned up and the cash is counted, Rotary calls for grant proposals.
2. It’s Historic
After the first crab was cracked in 1945, the feast swiftly became Annapolis Rotary’s most popular fundraiser. After 63 years, the feast is also the Rotary’s longest running benefit.
The original picking grounds were the Armory, but the feast soon sought a larger venue, taking up residence at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium in 1962.
Crabs aren’t the only thing each feast has in common. Ninety-year-old Rotarian Philip Richebourg has feasted since its inception. He’s scheduled to be cracking crabs this year, too.
1. It’s a Bargain
The cost for a dozen No. 2 Jimmies ranges from $25 to $35. Admission to the Rotary Feast guarantees you not only all the No. 1 Jimmies you can consume but also unlimited beer or soda, plus barbecue, corn and lots more.
You can even win back your money by trying your luck at a raffle. Five dollars buys you the chance to win $1,000, $500 or $250 at a live drawing.
Buy your tickets now for only $55. Latecomers pay $65 at the door to join the feast if there’s room.
The Annapolis Rotary Crab Feast 5-8pm @ Navy-Marine Corps Stadium, Annapolis. $55 w/age discounts: www.annapolisrotary.com/crabfeast.asp or 410-626-9888 for Bay Weekly’s Lisa Knoll, who chairs this year’s feast. Enter Gate 2 off Farragut Ave. or Gate 6 off Taylor Ave. for free parking; Gate 5 off Taylor Ave. charges a $5 fee.