May It Please the Palate ...

“Bad Detective”

By Nick Roumel

Ann Arbor’s Art Fair allows me to appreciate many fine forms of culinary artistic expression. The offerings have expanded over the years, well beyond funnel cakes, to delicacies of all persuasions.

Imagine my surprise, in this Midwestern state, to find a food truck offering prize-winning Maryland crab cakes. Specifically, the food truck’s signage boasted of a specific number, in the high teens, of prizes won for its recipes.

I took a few moments with my smart phone to do a little pre-lunch research. I looked up (let’s call them) “Crab Company” every which way, utilizing my Lexis skills to try different key words. I was astounded to find not a single review of this company on the internet. Not Yelp, not Trip Advisor, not Google, not Yahoo – nothing. These days, anyone with an opinion and an internet connection – which includes everyone, except perhaps a few household pets – has posted an online review about something. But not one person had deigned to offer their views on this multiple award-winning “Crab Company.”

Nor did I find any external reference to their awards. In fact, the only web site that I found that made any mention of their numerous recipe prizes was ... “Crab Company’s” own web site. Hmm, I thought, focusing my magnifying glass. Not only was theirs the only web site mentioning their awards, the detail was quite scant. Roughly quoting:

“Our crab cakes won best crab cake at the festival for several years in a row ...”

“The Festival?” I wondered. What festival? They don’t even name it! Is this like Seinfeld’s made-up holiday of “Festivus?”

I read on. Another reference on the web site was to a prize won in a certain cook-off. So I looked up that particular cook-off on the web. And there was Only. One. Internet. Reference! And that single web site was .... you guessed it, our Crab Company!

Hmm. This was getting hot. I was all set to send a scathing letter to the Minister of Seafood Truck Regulation. But then I managed to find, on Crab Company’s Facebook page, a reference to the name of the festival where all the awards were allegedly won. I found the web site of that Festival and wrote them.

I got an email a short time later. I opened it, fully expecting it to say, “Those slippery eels pulled a fast one on you! The closest they came to our festival was a small, unlicensed corn dog stand in 1997 that was closed by the health department for using real dogs. The only prize they won was time off their sentence for good behavior.”

But the email did not say that, at all. Instead it read (real email):

[“Crab Company’s”] crab cake recipe was created and perfected nearly 20 years ago by [owner] for the restaurant owned in [city]. During that time those crab cakes won primarily 1st place, with an occasional 2nd place award, for 9 or more consecutive years at the [appropriately sea-food-y named] “Crab Cake Challenge.” The Challenge is no longer held so the old records are not available. Of course, plaques were awarded each year for 1st and 2nd place.

“That recipe is the same one being used today. In the past 5 seasons that recipe has won awards as best crab cake or best dish in various competitions ... So yes, [“Crab Company”] has won many awards for its crab cakes. I hope this helps.”

And they should have added: “Now back off, or we’ll sic our lawyers on you.”

All that bad detective work for nothing. I was chagrined. And what’s more, their crab cakes were actually pretty good.

Maryland Crab Cakes
Cook’s Illustrated (not related to “Crab Company”)

A successful crab cake recipe has good quality lump crab meat and just enough binder to hold it together, bread or cracker crumbs, mayonnaise, egg, and some seasoning such as Old Bay. If you don’t have fresh crab, a seafood shop should have high quality frozen or canned. This recipe refrigerates the cakes ? hour before frying to better hold them together.

This recipe includes an optional “Creamy Chipotle Chile Sauce.” I prefer lemon and perhaps a bit of capers or hot sauce.


1 lb. lump crabmeat (preferably jumbo lump), picked over to remove cartilage and shell
4 medium scallions, green part only, minced (about 1/2 cup)
1 TBS fresh parsley leaves or dill, chopped
1-1/2 tsp Old Bay seasoning
2 TBS dry bread crumbs, or up to 1/4 cup (see note below)
1/4 cup mayonnaise
Salt and ground black pepper
1 large egg
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup vegetable oil
For the Creamy Chipotle Chile Sauce: 
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
2 tsp canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce (minced)
1small clove garlic, minced
2 tsps minced fresh cilantro
1 tsp lime juice


1. Gently mix crabmeat, scallions, herb, Old Bay, bread crumbs, and mayonnaise in medium bowl, being careful not to break up crab lumps. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Carefully fold in egg with rubber spatula until mixture just clings together.

(The amount of bread crumbs you add will depend on the crabmeat’s juiciness. Start with the smallest amount, adjust the seasonings, then add the egg. If the cakes won't bind at this point, then add more bread crumbs, one tablespoon at a time.)

2. Divide crab mixture into four portions and shape each into a fat, round cake, about 3 inches across and 1 1/2-inches high. Arrange on baking sheet lined with waxed paper; cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 30 minutes. (Can refrigerate up to 24 hours.)

3. Put flour on plate or in pie tin. Lightly dredge crab cakes. Heat oil in large, preferably nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Gently lay chilled crab cakes in skillet; pan-fry until outsides are crisp and browned, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Serve hot, with or without related sauces.

For the sauce: Mix all of the ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until the flavors blend, about 30 minutes. (The sauce can be refrigerated for several days.)

Serve proudly. Win a prize, and shut up the skeptics.

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard, and Walker PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for Current magazine in Ann Arbor. He occasionally updates his blog at