Sunday, March 23, 2003

Inland crab cakes surprisingly good

Campbell's scoop

By Polly Campbell
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Where to eat crab cakes:

Crab cakes are almost as inevitable on local menus as cheesecake. I often order them, because they're a good point of comparison among restaurants. I've been looking over past reviews for mentions of crab cakes, and I notice that every time I have a good one, I act surprised.

"The surprise was the crab cakes" or "I ordered crab cakes more out of duty than expectation" are may typical comments, as if scarred by some really bad crab cakes experiences.

This is a dish that's good in its original form because it's a simple combination of a few ingredients. All a crab cake really needs are good crabmeat, a little something to bind it together, and a light touch with the saute. A dribble of mayo-type dressing is good, and they can share the plate nicely with coleslaw, salads or spicy sauces.

But crab cakes are so good, they're popular, and that means they often lose their simplicity and integrity. They're frozen and deep-fried instead of pan-fried. Most often, they just don't have enough crab in them. There are a lot of bad ones out there. But perhaps I should drop the surprise when they're good - lately, I've had a lot of fine crab cakes.

Here are some I've liked from the last year and a half: (Prices are for appetizer or appetizer and entree.)

Bonefish Grill in Hyde Park: "These are what good crab cakes should be, lots of moist crab barely held together and sauteed to a light, thin crust." ($9.50)

Tavo's Grille in Hamilton: "The crab cakes aren't bad, with greatly increased appeal from a good coleslaw on the side, full of shredded apples and almonds." ($8.75)

Blake's Seafood Grill in Deerfield Township: "Crab cakes, which we ordered as a entree, were deep-fried, but big enough to handle it, with plenty of that all-important crab and a couple of sauces to keep the dish interesting." ($9.95/$15.95)

Tink's in Clifton: "You could start with Asian-styled crab cakes ... These are among the best in town. They're appealingly crusty on the outside, but moist and crabby inside, served with a tangle of pea sprouts and carrots and a sweet-hot Thai sauce. ($9/$18)

Kingfish in Symmes Township: "The crab cakes were the best surprise. Not the best in town, but up there." ($9.80/$16.80)

Bella, downtown: "Shrimp and crab cakes were better (than the egg rolls), crusty and served on a wonderful pickled melon salad." ($11)

Mitchell's Fish Market, Newport on the Levee: "Order the crab cakes as appetizer. Actually, the crab cakes are so good that when I go back, I may order them as a main course. They have the only thing that matters in a crab cake: lots of crab and in big pieces. A thin crust, a little crunch of celery and some garlic-tinged mayonnaise on the side." ($9.95/ $19.95)

These join some restaurants serving crab cakes classics, including Aioli, downtown; the Vineyard, Hyde Park; the Brown Dog, Blue Ash; Chez Nora, Covington, and Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse, downtown.

Crab cakes at Ruby's are spectacular. I wrote: Ruby's "crab cake ($7.95) was three times as good (and thick) as crab cakes that go for $12 elsewhere."


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