Clemente’s Maryland Crab House

Sunday, September 23rd, 2007 | All Things, Eats

We never made it out to the Cape this summer, but this Sunday, on a tip from DM, we had the unique opportunity to approximate the experience.

For years, I’ve been scouring New York City for a place like Clemente’s Maryland Crab House. An unapologetic shack with open air seating, a view of boats, brown butcher paper on the tables… a place where upon being seated you’re handed hefty mallets and tin buckets for holding the detritus of more crabs than you ever thought you could eat. Disposable bibs, too, are an essential element of the experience — bonus points if they’re emblazoned with an animated shellfish. I had high hopes when I first read about the Waterfront Crab House in industrial Long Island City, until I walked past it one afternoon on my way to the “Beach” to find that it wasn’t even on the water.

We had to drive out to Emmons Avenue in Sheepshead Bay to find it — improbably tucked away just yards from a multiplex — but Clemente’s comes awfully close to what I had in mind. We were given nutcrackers instead of mallets, but the all-important plastic bibs were in good supply. The ambience is rather more refined than a true shack, but only slightly. And from our wooden deck, with just the far distant view of Shore Parkway and the occasional JFK plane overhead to break the illusion, there was little to suggest that we weren’t dining in some oceanside resort town.

Clemente’s Crab House

Clemente’s Crab House

The menu is what you’d expect from a place like this: seafood-focused with a few bar-type items (burgers, Buffalo wings) thrown into the mix. I enjoy a good lobster roll as much as anyone — and Clemente’s does offer a so-called “angry” version, spiced with chipotle remoulade — but for me, tonight was all about the crabs. After starters of fried calamari, Zuppe de Mussels, and an order of Blue Point oysters on the half shell, that was the business of the evening.

Blue crab season usually runs from April through November, though many waterman cease their crabbing in October when oystering starts in the Chesapeake. During that time, Clemente’s gets their crabs shipped directly from Maryland every day. The rest of the year, the owners serve Florida stone crabs, whose season runs opposite to their Mid-Atlantic brethren, though presumably the restaurant name remains the same.

We had all sworn off buffet, but Clemente’s does offer a $29.95 all-you-can-eat crab dinner, for which we calculated that one would have to eat more than a dozen crabs to best the a la carte price. It seemed several diners had made that same calculation and taken up the challenge, which they met with gluttonous abandon. Our party was somewhat less ambitious, though, and ordered just a couple dozen crabs (an option, by the way, which oddly appeared on the online menu only.) The crusteaceans can be ordered in two varieties, both accompanied by corn on the cob and fries: spicy with traditional Old Bay seasoning, or slick with olive oil, garlic and parsley. We tried both versions and most of us declared the garlic preferable. Combined with a few of the other entrees, it was truly all we could eat.

The wait for food was long, but we were in no real rush to tear ourselves away from the idyllic harbor scene on this clear and warm early fall evening. There was a perfectly chilled bottle of pinot grigio, sent compliments of DM, and our friendly server made up for the delay with the surreptitious addition of several extra garlic crabs, which she brought to the table with a conspiratorial wink.

Sietsema of the Voice rather accurately (if a little crudely) describes the dining experience.

Clemente’s crabs

From our waterside table, we had a prime spot overlooking Venice Marina on Shell Bank Creek. I wonder if anyone lives out on their boats here, like at the 79th Street Boat Basin? There, with average fees of just $7,000 a year per slip, it’s perhaps the best real estate bargain in the city.

Clemente’s Crab House

Clemente’s Crab House

Clemente’s Maryland Crab House is accessible by car (get very specific directions beforehand – seriously, Google Maps won’t help you here) or, I assume, by boat.

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