528 N. Church Lane
I’m a marketer’s dream come true.
Tell me something is “scarce,” “in limited supply,” or “available for a short time ONLY,” and I’m a sucker every time.
That probably explains why I spend so much time in the “Seasonal Beer” aisle of my local Total Wine.
I’ve got to load up on that “limited edition” Harpoon Summer Ale! (Note to local beer distributor: you better replenish your supply, because I just cleaned you out.)
Brewers can always entice me with their seasonal beers that pair up beautifully with a barbeque in the summer or a cozy fire at Christmas.
But I’m a sucker for seasonal food too.
That must explain my obsession with softshell crabs.
Softshells are fleeting creatures, available for only a few hours during a few months of the year.
Now that’s what I call limited edition!
Tradition holds that you can only get fresh softshell crabs for a few weeks after the first full moon of May. That is certainly when they are most prevalent on the menu-boards of restaurants along the Chesapeake Bay.
But in reality, you can get them throughout the summer. (Just don’t tell the softshells marketing director.)
All crabs molt a few times during their lifespan. They plump up, slip out of their hard shell, and begin growing a new one.
And that’s all a softshell crab is—just a regular ol’ blue crab going through the change of life.
Watermen around the Chesapeake Bay quickly figured out that if you time it just right, you can fry up a softshell crab and eat it whole.
Yep. Belly, back, legs and all. Just bite right into him.
It’s a hell of a lot less work than all that cracking, hammering, pounding, poking and prodding required to get just a little piece of crabmeat.
A softshell crab sandwich is the lazy man’s crab feast—and the hungry man’s.
Maybe that’s the reason I love them so much.
Delicious, plump, fresh blue crab — without all the work.
So when I passed through the small eastern Virginia town of Tappahannock in late May, I knew Lowery’s would be the perfect place to find softshells.
Lowery’s has been serving up the bounty of the Virginia coast since 1938. It’s just a stone’s throw away from the mighty Rappahannock River, which empties into the Chesapeake Bay 30 miles southeast.
Dark, cozy and old school, with nautical knickknacks and paintings of watermen on the wall. The average age of their customers rivals the age of the restaurant itself!
If you want hip and young, well, Lowery’s isn’t it. Although, rumor has it there’s a tiki bar around back that can get somewhat lively during happy hour.
But alas, I was here for work, so I’ll never know for sure.
As soon as I walked through the front door, I saw a piece of paper on the wall that read: “Fresh local softshells available.”
I was so excited.
Lowery’s didn’t disappoint.
One of the largest softshells I’ve ever seen, perfectly fried in a tasty batter and placed on a toasted hamburger bun with lettuce, tomato, and a slather of tartar sauce.
Eating a softshell crab sandwich is just fun – it’s like eating a big delicious bug.
Crispy, fried crab legs dangling out on all sides, I felt a sense of jubilation just picking the crustacean up and holding the sucker in front my face.
Of course the best part is biting into that bad boy. No shells or bones to worry about — just pure fresh crab meat.
Pro fact: Just before the live softshell crab gets plopped in the fryer, the cook slices off the face and scrapes out the lungs and hind quarters, so you won’t have to worry about consuming anything you shouldn’t.
You just bite right into it.
Which is exactly what I did.
The legs were crispy. The body soft and succulent.
Of course there was that slight tug from the soft skin that is so strangely endearing when eating a softshell crab.
It is that yin and yang of texture that would probably be off-putting to land lubbers, Yankees, Bernie voters and other such joy-killers. But I try not to hang out with people like that.
Lowery’s other menu items were just as delicious, though not quite as seasonally exclusive.
The crab dip was almost all pure lump crab meat, with melted cheeses and seasonings that didn’t overpower.
The rolls were warm, fresh out of the oven.
Sweet candied yams and creamy coleslaw rounded out a fantastic meal.
But one thing to note; Lowery’s isn’t cheap.
The softshell sandwich was $12. The crab dip was $15. The crab cake sandwich was $14.
But all of it was good.
I’m not as irritable about my bill when I enjoy a meal this much.
After all, dining at Lowery’s is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, available only to an exclusive group of people who just happen to be passing through Tappahannock during the incredibly limited softshell crab season.
Yep. I fall for it every time.
And I’m glad I did.