Hatchet gets crabs in Bethesda house

Originally Published 02/21/02

Bethesda Crab House, 4958 Bethesda Avenue, Bethesda (3 blocks west of 7200 Wisconsin Avenue) 301-652-3382 open 7 days a week until midnight.

Bring a smock, wear old clothes, and ask for a bib when you get to the Bethesda Crab House. No, you won’t be doing arts and crafts; this experience is more like a biology lab. The place is a hole in the wall that has been serving crabs-and pretty much, only crabs, for 42 years, claiming to be Bethesda’s oldest restaurant.

The small menu consists of five varieties of crabs, two choices of crab cakes, oysters, and jumbo spiced shrimp. The hard shell, steamed crabs are served on trays that look like they have seen better days.

Newspapers serve as tablecloths, paper towels as napkins, and mallets as utensils. The restaurant has not invested in dishes, so the stack of paper towels serve as your plate. Using the mallet, you take on the task of getting the crab out of its shell and finding the edible meat; the experience is reminiscent of the destructive childhood phase.

Though it’s a completely different way of eating and a major stress relief to beat the little suckers with the hammer, you’ll feel like you had been playing in the sandbox. Cleanup is another task at hand. You’ll find the crab corpses spewed all over your lap, on the seat of the chair, and leaving your clothes smelling unpleasant. It’s a great place to go with close friends, close enough not to mind the fish smell embedded in your clothes that you’d have when you leave. I wouldn’t recommend this as a place to take a date, unless you never want to see that person again.

The jumbo spiced shrimp make a great appetizer, and really live up to their classification of “jumbo”. As gross as the whole process is to get to the crabmeat, the crabs are extremely fresh and delicious. It’s a bit tedious to dissect the crabs and there isn’t much meat that you can cleanly remove with your bare hands, leaving you hungry after the $32 tray of crabs is finished. I suggest going out for dessert after you hose yourself off.

The prices of the crabs range with size from $32/dozen for medium crabs to $60/dozen for extra large crabs and the other fares are reasonably priced. Within walking distance from the Friendship Heights metro stop, this authentic crab house is the perfect place for a casual and fun night out, but you must call ahead to reserve crabs.

Frequent patrons include Washington Redskins players and the coach of the Wizards, among other sports figures from the area.

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