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The Crab House

/ Updated on November 30, 2016
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Many years ago, there was a restaurant called The Crab House in the building that now houses Big Fish Grill on Coastal Highway. It was much smaller than the present facility. When the Sugrue family took over that property to open the first of what is now 6 big restaurants plus a market and Big Fish Wholesale Seafood, the idea of a down-home style crab joint with brown paper, hammers and piles of fries sprinkled with Old Bay never strayed far from their minds.

In the meantime, slightly farther north, The Crab Barn, Wahoo, Timothy’s and most recently Beachcomber were all taking turns trying to survive across from Tanger Seaside Outlets. Though it seems like the perfect spot for a casual eatery, each one eventually gave up the ghost for one reason or another. We won’t go into that. I have to live here, y’know.

Eric and Norm Sugrue finally got their wish, and The Crab House is up and running. Their Big Fish Restaurant Group brings a lot more to that storied building than just a couple of beer taps, ESPN and happy hour wings. They bring years of experience in kitchen layout, management, buying, hiring and training. While some restaurants blame “the economy” for their missteps, Norm and Eric’s places are busy just about every night. The old saying about opening a new business is true, with one minor modification: Build it – properly – and they will come. And we hope the reports of inconsistency are just hiccups as they find their sea legs. Sadly, the fried chicken (I raved about it when they first opened) seems to be spiraling down into mediocrity. More about that later.

After several visits this year (late 2016) I have to report that Crab House has dropped a few notches in terms of food preparation. In addition to continuing hushpuppy disappointment, the fried chicken that started out so good is now consistently dry, as if it was held too long. I thought some of these issues were growing pains, but I worry that the restaurant has slipped.

The Crab House is quintessential … well, crab house. All the staples are there, plus a few surprises Some are OK, and some not so much. Of course it’s all about the crabs. The menu proudly proclaims that “All of our crabs are #1 premium male crabs, steamed live to order.” Site visitor comments and my own experience doesn’t bear this out. More often than not customers report lukewarm or soggy crabs. I know crabs can be inconsistent by definition, but the cooking process shouldn’t be. The appetizers are tasty and plentiful, and when they opened, quite possibly the star of the show was the hushpuppies. When they are made properly, the outside is dark and crunchy, with an inside that’s neither dry nor grainy; in fact you can almost call them creamy. Note that I say, “When they are made properly.” On our last two visits the hushpuppies were not as moist as they were in the beginning. What changed? Are they making them too far in advance? Not sure.  But it seems this has become a trend. Wow I miss those original hushpuppies.

The Fried Oysters are a must-get. Cooking these is an art: Oil too hot, and all the coating blows off and you get a sadly limp glob of who-knows-what. Oil too cool, they are soggy and greasy. Three times I ordered these little gems they were perfect. A nice crunchy bite, but not so much coating that the oyster is lost. They also have Clam Strips – usually a frozen product (you can tell – it’s like eating rubber bands), but these are fresh. Again – the coating-to-clam ratio is well executed and they are quite good. They’re served with tartar sauce. I’d love it if they’d squirt a little Sriracha in there.

The Crab Balls also qualify for best in (the appetizer) show. They are basically a fried version of Norm’s closely guarded crab cake recipe. But bite size. A delicate but decisive “crunch” welcomes you into these little orbs; immediately followed by a well-spiced mixture of crab something good (but secret). Another must-get, and they have been good every time. Sadly, recent visits have produced balls that are rather dry and seem to have been pre-cooked.

If you frequent Salt Air in downtown Rehoboth Beach, you will recognize the Crabby Deviled Eggs, lightly redolent of Old Bay. They are served cold and make for a great shared starter. Take a look at the photo! At the moment there are 11 entrées from which to choose.

The crab cakes do remain as good as before, and everything I said about the Crab Balls appetizer goes for the Crab Cakes, except for three things: (1) You can get them broiled or fried, (2) they are bigger, and (3) you can get them as a sandwich. I love ‘em fried. Sadly, the crab cake sandwich is not as good as before since BFRG stopped carrying those wonderful rolls. They decided they could make them better, but my experience so far suggests that they have not, and that the new rolls are not as good.

Snow Crab Legs are fairly priced at $21/lb. They are heavy and yield lots of meat. Of course, eating these things is an art and you get out of them what you put in. Same thing with the Alaskan King Crabs, more expensive by definition and priced by the pound at market. Topping off the list of crabby goodies is Crab Imperial, overflowing with crabmeat. And it’s a lot of crabmeat for $24.

Shrimp come in three versions. (1) Stuffed with Crab Imperial and then baked. (2) Fried, with that signature delicate coating that doesn’t steal the spotlight from the little shrimp, and (3) steamed with cocktail sauce. All of these shrimp treatments are quite good, and each brings something special to fulfill whatever craving you might have.

Carnivores need not sit out in the car checking their email. In fact, the non-maritime items are also quite good. An order of fried chicken consists of 3 pieces; a half-chicken without the wing. The breading is simple and straight ahead, aromatic of black pepper and salt. Sometimes that’s all you need. When they first opened, each order of chicken was crispy, and the meat was moist and juicy. But I am getting more and more reports that the chicken is dry and a bit soggy on the outside. Are they frying it up in advance and holding it? I am not sure, but I will admit that the last time I had the chicken there it was not up to par. Guys! Please bring the chicken back to where it was when you opened! The same thing goes for their ribs. They aren’t even close to Bethany Blues or anyone who cooks their ribs from scratch, and the meat on my last couple of visits was like jerky.

They also have baby back ribs and a double-patty version of the delicious Summer House and Big Fish grill hamburgers. The ribs are nicely tender, but not soggy (sometimes “fallin’ off the bone” can go to extremes). Recently, they have been rather dry and seem to have been cooked a while ago. The sauce is moderately spicy, but not on the sweet side.

One of the features of The Crab House menu is the combo platters. You can choose a platter consisting of any 2 or 3 of the ribs, steamed or fried shrimp, crab cake, ½ fried or rotisserie chicken or ½ lb. of snow crab legs. This is a steal for the price, considering what you’d pay for any one of these entrees alone. And these are generous plates that remind me of the heaping “Fishermen’s Platters” of yesteryear.

If you’re with a group, one of the best deals is the All You Can Eat Feast consisting of the crabs, fried chicken, fries, hush puppies and slaw. All this for $39. You can add ribs, snow crab legs or steamed shrimp for just a few bucks more. Don’t think you’re gonna go in there and share under the table. Do note my caveats above re the chicken and ribs. They know this is a good deal, and they watch out for cheaters or people who want to carry it home. Don’t mess up a good thing! Be nice so you can go back and get more at the very fair price.

Last but not least is the Delaware Clam Bake platter with 3 large Blue Crabs, a dozen Clams, a half-pound of shrimp, corn and potatoes. Again, top it off with Snow Crab Legs, Steamed Mussels or King Legs for just a few bucks more.

Of course, there are salads, Maryland Clam Chowder and a Fresh Fish Board that changes with the wind. It all depends on what was swimmin’ out there yesterday! By the way, there are a huge number of taps with all sorts of interesting craft beers. After all, beer pairs perfectly with that menu.

The Crab House is at 19598 Coastal Highway across from Tanger Seaside Outlet. As of this writing, they are open 7 days for dinner. Call 302-227-2019 to check off-season hours; word is that they might not be open year-round. We’ll see. (D., Bar). Price range: Moderate +.

Off-season Specials & Hours

Specials & Moods change quickly. Always call a restaurant first.

pp = per person.
BOGO = buy one, get one.
Bloody = bloody mary.
domestics = American-made beers (e.g., Bud).
imports = foreign beers (e.g., Heineken).
Rails = non call-brand alcohol.
Prix Fixe = one set price.
Mains = entrees.
Margs = margaritas.
Chix = chicken.
AYCE = all you can eat.
Lite = Miller Lite
drafts = draught beer.
Early Birds = arrive before a certain time.
Apps = Appetizers.
bottles = beer in a bottle.
à la carte = order off the menu (no prix fixe).
crafts = micro/artisanal brews (e.g., Old Leghumper Lager)

19598 Coastal Highway

302-227-2019

Sunday
CLOSED Jan. 29, 2017 until mid-March 2017
Open 12-9:30
Crabby Hour: 4-6
AYCE medium Blues w/h'puppies and corn
Football Sunday! Open at noon
Monday
Closed until 2017
Tuesday
CLOSED Jan. 29, 2017 until mid-March 2017
Open 4-9
Crabby Hour: 4-6
AYCE medium Blues w/h'puppies and corn
Wednesday
CLOSED Jan. 29, 2017 until mid-March 2017
Open 4-9
Crabby Hour: 4-6
Burgers & Brews 4-9
AYCE medium Blues w/h'puppies and corn
Thursday
CLOSED Jan. 29, 2017 until mid-March 2017
Open 4-9
Oyster night! Buck-a-shuck on selected oysters.
Live music 5-8
AYCE medium Blues w/h'puppies and corn
Friday
CLOSED Jan. 29, 2017 until mid-March 2017
Open 4-9
Crabby Hour: 4-6
Lobster Specials 4-9
AYCE medium Blues w/h'puppies and corn
Saturday
CLOSED Jan. 29, 2017 until mid-March 2017
Open 12-9:30 for lunch and dinner
Crabby Hour: 4-6
The Rehoboth Foodie

About the Author

"My goal is to promote Rehoboth Beach dining while remaining honest and impartial. I don’t gush unless a place deserves it, and I don’t pull punches, either. With so many good places to eat around here, it just doesn’t make sense to waste the calories — or the money — on anything less." View all articles written by The Rehoboth Foodie

Add Your Comment
  1. Chars says:

    Most excellent on our first visit tonight! We were told the wait would be 15 minutes, but it ended up being 4 minutes. We got there around 5:45. Crab balls, fried shrimp, fried clams, fried oysters and the scallop skewers were awesome. The only thing we did not care for were the hush puppies – they had powdered sugar on them which made them kind of like a donut and way too sweet for our liking. Oh, and I loved the tartar sauce. Otherwise, superb and we will definitely be back!

  2. DMac says:

    Foodie, I suggest that you may wish to revise your comment about the Crabby Deviled Eggs. You said that they were, “Topped with as much flakey white crabmeat as is possible without tempting gravity…” I’m sure that this was true when you had them, but I’ve had them twice, I’ve seen other people have them multiple times, and I’ve never seen one shred of crab on top of them. They looked (and tasted) like typical deviled eggs that have had Old Bay seasoning added.

  3. Dave says:

    After reading the Foodies pre-opening review of the Crab House and being longtime, very satisfied patrons of the Big Fish Grill, we decided to give it a try knowing that new restaurants need time to correct start-up glitches.

    My wife, a friend and myself went to the Crab House soon after it opened in 2014. All of us had a very good meal, service was good although inexperienced (second drink was not timely), and the ambiance was pleasing. In short a good experience.

    As time passed, I was surprised to read some very negative comments about the food and service. It made us hesitant to return and we did not in 2014. This year, I read the Foodies update and he acknowledged some difficulties predicting they were correctable. OK, based on his update and hoping the Crab House will eventually meet expectations, we decided to go and experience for ourselves the current operation.

    Our same party went there on Saturday, May 23. We were cheerfully greeted and seated in less than the estimated 15 minute wait. Our friendly waitress took our drink order. Unfortunately, the drinks (3 beers) took a while to arrive, but our waitress did warn the bar was backed-up. Our friend ordered the Caesar salad with a crab cake, my wife the crab cake platter with french fries and I had the crab cake sandwich with macaroni salad. Also, our friend and myself had the Maryland crab soup (being from Maryland, we take crabs seriously). Our friend enjoyed her meal with no complaints. My wife described her crab cakes as average containing a little too much filler (she knows crabs, growing up in a boating family in the Annapolis area). For me, both the sandwich and soup were very good, the sides also good. All of us described our latest experience as good with some improvements needed.

    PS I must mention the efforts of Assistant Manager, Erica. She bent over backwards to help us resolve a question about using our Big Fish reward points to pay for our dinner. She is a very warm, friendly, patient people oriented person.

  4. Adrienne says:

    We ordered take out and could not have been more disappointed in the terrible quality of the food which was really overpriced for what we got. The crab cakes were mushy, the “jumbo” stuffed shrimp were tiny and rubbery, the ribs were burnt, dry, and seriously lacking BBQ sauce, the Old Bay wings did not have Old Bay flavor, the Cole slaw tasted rancid. We will never return to this restaurant again! Extremely disappointed!!!

  5. Rob says:

    Went to the crabhouse last night to try several different things. Wanted to try the fried chicken as per foodie’s recommendation. Very disappointed in the size of the pieces. They were very small. Maybe the smallest breast I was ever served, though he flavor was still good and it seemed to be well cooked. I still prefer whiskey beach in Dewey and Gus & Gus’ on the boardwalk fried chicken. The ribs although generally tasty were a little overdone. I know ribs have to be cooked in advance but these look like they’ve been around too long. No complaints about steamed shrimp and the crabs. The worst item of the night was coleslaw. Never have I tasted coleslaw that tasted so much like mayonnaise. I will give him the benefit of the doubt as a poorly made batch. All in all this does not match up with the other great restaurants in the Big Fish group.

  6. Marion Davis says:

    We went to the Crab House early on a Thursday evening. Have been to every recent incarnation of this place and really liked the fresh look the new owners have put in. Also liked the sinks! The food was overall good but we didn’t think the price point was that good for the platters – $21 for 2 small entrees and only one side. The crab cake was small and bland, had to sprinkle Old Bay on it for additional flavor. The clam strips and boiled shrimp were excellent as was the cole slaw. Beer selection was very good, lots of drafts to chose from. What was strange and very off-putting was the taste of the water, served in plastic glasses. It unfortunately tasted like kitchen sink water smells while dirty dishes are being soaked. Neither of us could manage more than a few sips. My corn on the cob was boiled in water and I could taste the”kitchen water” in that as well. I could still taste it in my mouth as we were driving home. I think they might want to check out their water source or install a filter, something to get rid of that terrible taste. We will return and hopefully this problem will be corrected. The service was excellent.

  7. DMac says:

    My wife and I have been to the Crab House several times. Not because the food was great each and every time, but because we wanted to be fair and not draw any conclusions before the place had time to settle down from their opening. For us, the best word that describes the Crab House right now is “inconsistent.” We have had some dishes that were wonderful, but on a return trip, not so wonderful. The fried chicken is a prime example. The first time I had it, it was perfect; perfectly cooked, perfectly seasoned, hot, juicy and tender. However on a later occasion when my wife and I both ordered it, it was cold, dry and tough. The one and only time we had the crab deviled eggs, we were left wondering what happened to the crab. The Foodie’s photo of the dish had shown it piled with crab meat, but none at all was served on ours. Actually, none was even tasted in ours. They were simply mediocre deviled eggs topped with Old Bay seasoning. The sides have been consistent each time we visited however, with the potato salad and the coleslaw especially good every time. Their chopped salad is also excellent. The serving staff could really benefit from additional training, especially on serving drinks. I don’t know of anyone who enjoys having the rim of their drink touched by their server, and that’s exactly what happened to me. For some reason, they don’t seem to know how to use serving trays for drinks. So again, inconsistent is the word that we will use for now. The place has potential; they have proven that they can produce good food. However, the management needs to make it a point to more carefully oversee and train the kitchen and serving staff in order to provide their customers with a more consistently excellent dining experience.

  8. Jillian says:

    What a vile experience.

    I had such huge hopes for this visit. I stayed away from this space while it was Timothy’s then the Beach whatever that one was but the team that puts Big Fish out there has always done me right and I frequent several of their locations.

    The Crab House was awful. No one is more disappointed than I am. I love a good night of cracking crabs and drinking a beer. I took my mom and two young daughters on a Monday night , after the crowds had left. It was late, the server was lovely. We ordered a burger, a fried shrimp platter and the crab feast. I should have known something was wrong, the crabs would not crack and they had a weirdness to them. We cracked a few, and realized there was something wrong with them but being that my daughter had eaten most of the claws I would have felt like a chump to complain. The table next to us , a young couple got the same meal and immediately sent it back after their first cracking attempt. Their crabs were not cooked so it all came together and made sense. That was not the only thing that was wrong. Their fried shrimp were small, the ribs nothing to write home about and the fried chicken was coated in a bland find crumb. Raw Crabs at the crab house, gross.

  9. Heather B Heather B says:

    This is a great article. I am so excited next time I am in town, I am totally going to hit this place up.
    Heather

  10. Leslie says:

    Seven of us had dinner last night. I would call the Crab House mediocre at best. It was extremely loud, I had the rockfish with crab, and the center of the fish was not cooked, my husband said he’s had better crab imperial many other places, a friend said the ribs were dry and the chicken so-so. Another friend kept wondering where the crab was in her deviled eggs. I don’t know why the place was jam packed. Maybe the other folks (like us) went because of Foodies glowing review. There are too many good restaurants, so this will be our last trip to the Crab House.

  11. steve o says:

    I went for the All you can eat crabs….Was told they do not have them but they advertise them????…. so I settled with a crab cake…. I must say I was disappointed. The crab cake had no lumps and was luke warm…. Others had fried chicken and that was good… they should have called themself the chicken house….lol…. The service was weak but they are new…. I will give another shot probably after summer and they got there act together….

  12. Cool PM Guy Cool PM Guy says:

    We worship at Big Fish! But the crab house wasn’t nearly the same quality food or service. Crabs and shrimp had little flavor, the hush puppies were cold, rubbery and had no flavor and my son’s clamp strip were like rubber. The crab cake, corn, imperial and crabs were good but not great. Foodie — are we talking about the same place?

  13. Cindy Sublett says:

    We had dinner there Saturday night of Memorial Day weekend. We were told we would have a 45 minute wait, but only waited 15 minutes. My husband loved the hush puppies, the Chopped Salad was different and tasty. My daughter ordered 6 medium size crabs, they brought her 7, They were heavy, meaty crabs. I recommend the crab sauce for dipping. It had a little barbecue flavor to it, different than our family recipe but still yummy. I ordered the crabcake platter, no complaints, lots of crabmeat! My husband ordered the shrimp and crabcake platter. He wished he had ordered a bigger platter after finishing. We had a fresh blueberry pie waiting at home for dessert, but maybe next time.

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