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Should Soft-Shell Crab Be Named Maryland's Official State Sandwich?

A proposal to make the soft-shell crab sandwich Maryland's official sandwich is being considered in the state legislature this session. Tell us your thoughts in comments.

One version of the sandwich, the soft-shell crab po’boy, at Miss Shirley’s Cafe in Annapolis. Capital News Service photo by Sarah Tincher.
One version of the sandwich, the soft-shell crab po’boy, at Miss Shirley’s Cafe in Annapolis. Capital News Service photo by Sarah Tincher.

By SARAH TINCHER

Capital News Service

From the official state bird, the Baltimore Oriole, to the official state dessert, the Smith Island Cake, Maryland has just about every state symbol covered.

But that’s not enough for some lawmakers who — for the second year in a row — are trying to add one more “official” to the pile: a state sandwich.

A proposal to make the soft-shell crab sandwich the state’s official sandwich passed in the Senate but went stale in the House during the 2013 session. However, advocates have put it back on the menu — it’s being debated again this year in both chambers.

A soft-shell crab is simply a crab which has molted its shell, thus making it soft. The first full moon in May traditionally marks the beginning of the season for the delicacy, which is fried whole and stuck between two pieces of bread — complete with the legs sticking out the sides.

At Miss Shirley’s Cafe in Annapolis, the crabs are dipped in buttermilk and a cornmeal concoction before making their way to the fryer.

While some Marylanders argue that the crabcake sandwich should have been chosen over the soft crab, bill sponsor Sen. Richard Colburn, R-Dorchester, thinks the unique soft-shell crab sandwich still has a leg — or eight — to stand on.

“You (can) never ever be certain whether the crab in [the crabcake] sandwich is from Maryland,” Colburn said. “The soft crab is unique, it’s coming from the Chesapeake Bay. Soft crab sandwich is a unique delicacy and it’s the only crab you can eat with legs sticking out of the bread.”

Some people, however, say the state has better sandwiches to go alongside the official state drink: milk.

Shannon Westlund, owner of Ocean City’s Mug and Mallet restaurant, said her vote would have doubtlessly been for a crabcake sandwich over the soft-shell crab — although she acknowledged that taking a crack at eating a whole soft crab is a little more difficult for out-of-state beach visitors than it is for Free State natives born with Old Bay in their veins.

“Tourists aren’t going to eat a soft-shell sandwich because it’s a little intimidating,” Westlund said. “But everyone will try a crabcake sandwich … I don’t understand why that wasn’t the top priority.”

The sandwich debate is still heating up, but almost every Marylander can agree that as far as an official Maryland sandwich is concerned, some form of the blue crab — which is already the state’s official crustacean — is a must.

Dick Franyo, owner of Annapolis’ Boatyard Bar and Grill, said as long as there’s blue crab in it, he’s fine either way.

“We sell more crabcakes because crabcakes are probably more widely palatable [and] more user-friendly. … But for the aficionado who wants the real deal, they’ll want the soft crab,” Franyo said.

Jen McIllwain, Miss Shirley’s spokeswoman, said most people are excited for the soft-shell crab sandwich to reappear on the menu during the season.

“People look forward to it coming back on the menu during spring and summer,” McIllwain said. “We have less people who are scared of it and more looking forward to it.”

The bill has already been heard in Senate and House committees. No further action has been taken, but Colburn is still hopeful that the bill will pass and be served up to the governor for his signature.

You March 27, 2014 at 09:28 AM
Normally a "state" food, drink, or whatever is supposed to be something rather unique yet common to that state with routes of first being made or perfected there. Unfortunately crab cakes are everywhere in the coastal US (even though MD crab cakes are the best). Steamed crabs are everywhere in the coastal US, yet everyone makes them different, with of course MD being the best (I mean who would eat New England crabs with butter and salt? or North Carolina crabs... plain or with mustard?). Yet, fried soft crab sandwiches are very unique to MD. Outside of MD I have only seen fried soft crab sandwiches in coastal VA, NC and New Orleans and they are advertized as "MD style fried soft crabs".
Bob March 27, 2014 at 09:41 AM
Unique? Soft shells are sold by every state on the eastern seaboard, and online sales from each are available. If so chosen, it should only be during the 5-6 months they are available fresh.
Thomas P. Jones March 28, 2014 at 12:15 AM
I'm voting for the soft crab sandwich for the official state sandwich, though both are very good. I'd have to agree that you know where the blue crab came from in the soft crab sandwich, from the great Chesapeake Bay of the state of Maryland. Both have crab in them and you can't lose with either one.
Steven Spiegel March 28, 2014 at 12:25 PM
How bout the Crab Cake ? As much as I love soft shell crabs I believe the crab cake would be a better fit because they have them all year round !!!!!!!!!

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