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DonRocks

Pappas Restaurant and Sports Bar - Local Crabcake Chain with Several Area Locations (but Are the Crabs from Maryland?)

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The other week, I was staying up near Towson University, and overheard a lady talking about a crab-cake shack that was "Oprah Winfrey's favorite!"

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After a bit of digging, I realized they were talking about the locally renowned Pappas Restaurant and Sports Bar, famous for their crab cakes, and deified everywhere as "the best of the best of the best," etc.

Because of where I was staying, I went to the Parkville location, which was interesting because it's directly across the street from (what appears to be) their main shipping facility, as well as a third building on that small intersection, for carry-out only. Here's the picture of the Parkville Sports Bar, and if you blow it up, and look closely, you'll see the shipping facility across the street on the left, and the carryout joint on the right - note the sign that says, "Maryland Steamed Crabs."

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Pappas is anything-but shy when it comes to flaunting all the lavish praise they've been receiving for decades - this is the bottom part of a sign that's posted on their front door - there are many, many more accolades, both on their building, and on their website.

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I ordered the "Double Crab Cake" for $32.99, the menu saying, "Two of the best crab cakes in town! Just ask Oprah!!"

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And what showed up was absolutely gorgeous:

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But I have some bad news for Oprah Winfrey.

And I have some bad news for Baltimore.

And I have some bad news for people who think they've been enjoying the world's best Chesapeake Blue Crab for years if not decades.

Sigh ...

I don't see how this was possibly Chesapeake Blue Crab. Furthermore, I don't see how it was possibly from Maryland, or even from America.

It seems like I'm always the person who walks in at 4 AM and pisses on the party which has been going on since sunset; I also wonder if I'm the only person who notices, or even cares, about these things.

From the very first bite, I "knew" this wasn't Chesapeake Blue Crab - the lumps were *enormous*, the size of grapes, and were extremely consistent in size (huge), texture (tough), and taste (nearly absent). And $32.99 for two crab cakes that were *this* big? If these were made from Chesapeake Blue Crab, the restaurant would be out of business in a week.

I'd already made up my mind, but I needed something a little more "official" to go on, other than my own opinion, so I talked with two servers with whom I'd struck up a friendly rapport. 

"There's no way this is Chesapeake Blue Crab," I said to both of them. They both fell silent, glanced at each other for a moment, and one of them vaguely shook his head no. "Two lump crab cakes this size would cost a fortune," I added, encouraging them to say something.

"You're smart," one of them said to me. "You can tell the difference." We continued our conversation.

Reportedly, "they" (I'm not quite sure who "they" are) have "crab meat tastings" a couple times a week with different distributors. And, after I asked how the meat is selected, I was told - without hearing any specific names - it's from whoever has the most-consistent, least-expensive product. I'm no expert, but I grew up in Maryland, and have been eating Blue Crab my entire life - lumps this big, this firm, this tasteless, and this consistently shaped, scream out "Southeast Asia" to me (recall Todd Kliman's fine City Paper exposé about Phillip's Crab House, et al, using Southeast Asian crab meat - you can pretty much consider this Part Two of that exposé, without the extensive reporting and fact-checking that went into it).

Although I didn't read every word of their menu, and haven't scoured every word of their website, I did spent about 20-30 minutes specifically searching for damning language, and I found none. Nowhere did I see that these crabs are Chesapeake Blue Crabs, from Maryland, or even from America, but have a look for yourselves. About the closest I came was in the very first picture up above - the sign across the street says, "Maryland Steamed Crabs." Note, however, that it doesn't say, "Steamed Maryland Crabs," which would give it an entirely new meaning.

In other words, I am absolutely not accusing Pappas of anything shady in terms of false advertising, because I don't think they're claiming to be serving Maryland crab, and they're apparently taking great pains with their language to "circle the wagon" without actually firing a single arrow. They're letting rave reviews from "journalists" - dozens of rave reviews from "journalists" (*) - do the talking for them about what an amazing experience these crab cakes are, and there's so much noise that the ignorance of the masses seems to overlook the minor detail that they're buying into a marketing blitz that has everything to do with the Chesapeake Bay, even though the worlds "Chesapeake Bay" seem not to be used at all.

(*) I was once told, by a journalist, in the angriest, most-hostile terms imaginable, that I'm no journalist - essentially because I have no training.

In a similar light, I am absolutely not saying that Pappas never serves Maryland or Chesapeake Blue Crab - merely that the circumstantial evidence presented to me on this visit was pretty overwhelming.

As for my meal? Just because the crab meat wasn't dredged from the Chesapeake Bay doesn't mean it wasn't good - I loved my crab cakes. Yes, the meat was bland, but it was still crab, and it was still alive and skittering around in the water, somewhere. I would absolutely come here again, and get this exact same thing, with the exact same expectations - there is minimal binder, virtually no leg meat (or much of any fibrous meat) that I could detect, and the primary scent of the crab cakes was something like that of a savory soufflé (i.e., egg, perhaps used as binder), which I find extremely appealing.

The beer selection at Pappas is surprisingly good (and cheap!); the side orders are of banquet-hall quality.

So don't take this as a condemnation of Pappas Restaurant and Sports Bar; it isn't. But do be aware that this one journalist's restaurant critic's person's impression is that he dined on something other than Chesapeake Blue Crab on this particular evening - extrapolate as you wish, since my investigation went no further than what you just read. That said, I doubt you'll be seeing this write-up on any websites anytime soon - being honest can be isolating, and truthful, knowledge-based writing is not very conducive to fame and fortune - at least not in this self-serving, PR-driven industry.

Don't get me started on the most popular "craft beer journalists."

Cheers,
Rocks

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4 hours ago, Ericandblueboy said:

Maybe I’ll check it out next time at MGM.

how can they be better than Faidley’s?

Not that it matters now, but Faidley's (in Lexington Market) was closed the entire first week of September. Last week, we stopped here on the way back from Baltimore to crab :) some lunch, but they were completely shut down. 

To put this awful showing of Woodberry Kitchen in perspective, we bought 8 deep-fried chicken thighs at Park's - 8, huge, deeply battered and flavorful pieces for less than $12. These are the kinds of chicken thighs you feel guilty for if you eat more than two, and in fact we ate a total of three between us, and gave the other five to a panhandler on the side of the road. Anyway, while *extremely* unhealthy, these were really pretty tasty, and as much as I hate to say it, the chicken itself was more enjoyable than what we had gotten at Woodberry Kitchen for dinner the night before: I'm not saying it was higher quality (I can assure you that it wasn't); just that it tasted better. I've been to Woodberry Kitchen 3-4 times this summer, and while it's never perfect, this was the first time it was just flat-out disappointing. The beef tartare tasted like an anchovy distributor achieved orgasm while holding a salt-shaker - easily the saltiest raw protein I've ever eaten with the possible exception of some cured hams.

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18 hours ago, DonRocks said:

you can pretty much consider this Part Two of that exposé, without the extensive reporting and fact-checking that went into it).

(*) I was once told, by a journalist, in the angriest, most-hostile terms imaginable, that I'm no journalist - essentially because I have no training.

Cheers,
Rocks

Being a journalist has nothing to do with training, but it certainly does have something to do with fact-checking. 

In the interests of journalism, why not call the owner/manager and ask where the crab came from?

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7 hours ago, mtureck said:

Being a journalist has nothing to do with training, but it certainly does have something to do with fact-checking. 

In the interests of journalism, why not call the owner/manager and ask where the crab came from?

Because I have endless amounts of work to do (both inside and outside of this website), was writing about this one meal for our readers' benefit, and am happy to turn this over to other people if they're interested in pursuing it - this is why I left readers with all the details that I'm aware of - so anyone who's interested can pick up where I left off.

(BTW, I don't self-identify as a journalist - that comment was an afterthought. I do wish I had enough help, or financial backing, where I could concentrate on writing more substantive and detailed restaurant reviews - either that, or manage those who do.)

PS - Based on 15-years of experience, I would guess that I'm ten-times (really: 10 times) more likely to get accurate tidbits from waitstaff than from management. The main reason for this is that when I talk with waitstaff, bartenders, etc., I'm not "trying" to get anything in particular, but when I make a special outreach to management, they know I'm asking for something that I might like to write about, and even though Rockwell is a decent guy, who the hell is he to be snooping around our private affairs, etc. Honestly, I don't blame them, even though I reiterate that in 15 years, I have a 100% track record of not screwing people over when they ask me to remain silent.

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Well this is distressing. We got Pappas crabcakes for my father-in-law's 91st birthday last weekend. He and my wife are full Baltimoreans and I've been eating these things for years, and we've never suspected they used those SE Asian things. The cakes were delicious as usual.

Pappas has always been up there with Faidleys in our top tier. 

Will investigate more and circle back. I have had a Congressional press pass, so on some level I am a journalist. 😎

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On 9/13/2018 at 12:29 PM, Bob Wells said:

Well this is distressing. We got Pappas crabcakes for my father-in-law's 91st birthday last weekend. He and my wife are full Baltimoreans and I've been eating these things for years, and we've never suspected they used those SE Asian things. The cakes were delicious as usual.

Pappas has always been up there with Faidleys in our top tier. 

Will investigate more and circle back. I have had a Congressional press pass, so on some level I am a journalist. 😎

But if it's delicious, why is it distressing that they use asian crabs?

Glancing at their website, I don't see Faidley's claiming to use Maryland crab either, fwiw. 

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22 minutes ago, mtureck said:

But if it's delicious, why is it distressing that they use asian crabs?

Glancing at their website, I don't see Faidley's claiming to use Maryland crab either, fwiw. 

Pappas (and Faidleys) are supposedly a cut above the Phillipses of the world. And Don is right, Asian crab is tasteless. Beautiful but tasteless. The deliciousness of the crabcake should not depend on the other ingredients.

PS Just checked the websites for G&M and Jerry's. None of them use the key word "blue" in front of crab. Thus I have to believe they all use the swimming crabs from Asia.This should be a freakin' scandal! Ah well, life goes on.

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17 hours ago, Bob Wells said:

Pappas (and Faidleys) are supposedly a cut above the Phillipses of the world. And Don is right, Asian crab is tasteless. Beautiful but tasteless. The deliciousness of the crabcake should not depend on the other ingredients.

PS Just checked the websites for G&M and Jerry's. None of them use the key word "blue" in front of crab. Thus I have to believe they all use the swimming crabs from Asia.This should be a freakin' scandal! Ah well, life goes on.

The lack of local blue crab could be a result of the fact that immigration restrictions have eliminated most crab pickers in the Chesapeake this season.  It’s limiting lump blue crab in markets and restaurants.  Recently updated report

I had crab in a dish a few weeks ago and it was NOT blue crab.  It was tasteless

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