On a brutally hot July day two years ago, I brewed some iced tea and settled in to watch Anthony Bourdain tour the Hudson River Valley. He sat on the banks of the Hudson River and enjoyed hard-shell crabs and beer with local men who set crab traps in the river. I never knew hard-shells thrive in the Hudson, but I instantly started craving them.
I grew up on hard-shells beginning at the now-shuttered Abe’s Oyster House in Atlantic City. Years later, I dove into them at The Crab Claw on Maryland’s Eastern Shore where we sat outside at newspaper-covered picnic tables and cracked away.
I wonder why there are so few places in the city that offer this delicacy. Blue crab is so sweet and satisfying. Many people believe eating hard-shells is too much effort for too little reward. I am not one of them.
I found my tasty reward at Anastasi Seafood in the Italian Market. I have not been to this retail shop/restaurant in years, but it has hard-shells, so off we went.
There are tables outside for those who enjoy dining al fresco, but we took seats at the bar because every table was taken.
One will not find a nicer staff anywhere. A glass of beer was in order, and since I was in the Italian Market, a pint of Peroni ($6) from Italy hit the spot. Edward sipped a Yard’s Pale Ale ($6), and our feast began.
The culinary gods were looking after us: Anastasi serves cherrystone clams ($1.25) each. We devoured two dozen of these meaty, freshly shucked beauties, nestled on a tray lined with small square ice cubes, which are among my favorite foods. Don’t forget to ask the server for oyster crackers and horseradish.
Soup on a warm summer night is a fine appetite stimulant. A cup of white chowder ($4.50) was made with crab and shrimp. The texture was perfect; some homemade chowders can be too thick and gloppy. This version was prepared with tiny squares of carrot that made it a bit sweet to my taste.
Hard-shell crabs (three for $15) can be ordered clean, dirty, with or without Old Bay seasoning. I like Old Bay, but I prefer a light hand. I decided to go classic: steamed crabs atop a garlic olive oil sauce.
A pile of napkins and lobster crackers for easy crabmeat extraction were in order. The first taste of this delicate, sweet crustacean was downright satisfying. The crabs were steamed beautifully and not one bit overcooked. Whoever was in charge of them knows how to cook crab. It was simply summer on a plate in South Philly.
A fried fish combination dinner, a favorite from childhood, is difficult to find on a restaurant menu. The Anastasi platter ($20) consisted of a large slice of fried Jersey flounder, shrimp, scallop, oyster and crab balls. Each piece of fish was free of grease and fried to a light golden brown. A sprinkling of salt and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice were required. Since tartar sauce and fried fish go so well, ask for it. Customers will get cocktail sauce, however. I found the tartar sauce a bit too sweet. The french fries were crisp and hot, but the coleslaw was a bit bland and needed more mayonnaise.
Summer is the season for fresh seafood. Anastasi is offering soft-shell crabs that have become very expensive in markets within the past few years. It also has specials such as halibut and a well-planned menu for all seafood lovers.
I know the craving for lobster will arrive soon. I will be off to Anastasi to enjoy.
Three-and-a-half tips of the toque to Anastasi Seafood.
1101 S. Ninth St.
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