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Cantler’s Riverside Inn 458 Forest Beach Road Annapolis, Md. 21401 (410) 757-1311 One of the Washington, D.C., area’s unique summertime treats is a journey to a favorite crab house. The perfect antidote to the often pretentious, buttoned-down downtown dining scene, a good crab house is a basic, no-frills establishment, preferably next to the water and offering generous quantities of steamed Maryland blue crabs, usually having been caught just a few hours earlier. Cantler’s Riverside Inn fits the bill perfectly. Located on the banks of Mill Creek just outside Annapolis, Md., little more than a 45-minute drive from downtown Washington, Cantler’s should be on every crab lover’s must-visit list. In business for more than 25 years, Cantler’s attracts longtime crab lovers and neophytes alike. If possible, avoid sitting inside the crowded, noisy, and slightly claustrophobic dining room. Instead, grab a table outside on the deck overlooking Cantler’s dock and the boats in the creek. Be prepared to wait, however, as the restaurant does not take any reservations. Cantler’s is the only restaurant we have ever visited with its own funicular — for the crabs, not people. This hillside trolley, located right next to the deck, hauls up baskets heaping with live crabs that have been caught by the Cantler family’s own fleet of boats, which have been plying the Chesapeake for some five generations. Cantler’s menu features a wide variety of seafood entrees, including lobster, rockfish, tuna, swordfish, and salmon. Steak and chicken are also available. But the real reason to visit Cantler’s is the steamed crabs. As fresh as can be imagined, served with generous quantities of the famous Old Bay seasoning, these crustaceans are done to perfection. In true crab house fashion, the crabs are piled on the bench-style tables covered with sheets of plain brown paper and eaten with a wooden mallet, a knife, and your fingers. Those skilled at prying open the hard shells will be rewarded with copious amounts of claw and backfin crabmeat (and will also likely make a huge mess — definitely don’t dress to impress). The friendly staff — and neighboring diners — will gladly show first-time visitors how to practice the time-honored art of eating crabs. Cantler’s smartly provides a large sink just off the deck with plenty of soap for cleaning up. Priced to market, the large-sized crabs we sampled on our visit cost $42 for a dozen and easily served four diners. Finger bowls of more Old Bay and vinegar are provided for dipping the succulent crabmeat. Also definitely ask for sweet local corn, served in the husk, to accompany the crabs. For starters, Cantler’s offers its award-winning crab vegetable soup, slightly spicy in a tomato base, as well as an authentic New England clam chowder loaded with clams and potatoes. Spiced shrimp, steamed clams and mussels and other seafood appetizers are also available. If you still have room, go with the Key lime pie for dessert. Cantler’s version balances well the sweet and tart flavors. Other desserts are pedestrian by comparison. Whether you arrive by car or boat, a visit to Cantler’s should be high on the list for all those who wish to escape K Street and enjoy steamed crabs and fresh local seafood in an authentic Chesapeake Bay setting. Prices: appetizers, $3.25 to $17.99; entrees, $14.25 to $20.95; steamed crabs, market price. Open for lunch and dinner: Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight. Seth Bloom and Mark Johnson are Washington, D.C., lawyers and frequent contributors to Legal Times.

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