2018 East Coast She Crab Soup Classic
If you read my previous post about the Freemason Abbey’s She Crab soup, you know how much I love She Crab soup. I took that love to the next level when I attended the East Coast She Crab Soup Classic on Saturday, April 7. The event, presented by the Culinary Institute of Virginia, brought together 18 local restaurants, all competing for the title of Best She Crab Soup.
Just to recap, She Crab soup is on almost every menu at regional seafood restaurants. What I quickly learned at the Classic was that almost every restaurant had their own variation of the rather simple recipe and not all of them use the traditional roe.
It was a full house in the Virginia Beach Convention Center’s ballroom. The event is usually held outside near the beach, but thankfully they moved it indoors to accommodate the brisk and rainy weather. It took a little over an hour to move between all 18 restaurants. Lines snaked around the space as hungry soup lovers patiently—and some not so patiently—waited for their samples. While I won’t review all 18, I will mention my favorites and least favorites.
She Crab Shout-outs
I think it goes without saying that Freemason Abbey had one of my favorites. However, they are in the Hall of Fame for this event, which meant that no one could vote for them. That’s probably fair considering how many times they’ve swept the competition. Here were my Top 3 favorites for the day.
With a name like Passion, you expect there to be a certain level of care in the preparation and presentation from the Chesapeake restaurant. While I had never heard of Passion before this, I can’t stop thinking about them now. Passion’s sample first caught my eye because it was topped with a crab claw. That already earned top marks in my book. Passion is one of the restaurants that doesn’t use roe. There was a hint of sherry, but it certainly wasn’t overpowering. The small sample had several lumps of crab meat in the medium-bodied broth. The best part was saving my crab claw until the end, inhaling the crab meat inside, then smelling that sweet old bay on my fingers.
Passion won not only the People’s Choice first-place award, but the grand honor of first place from the judges. This was Passion’s second overall win and placed the restaurant in the competition’s Hall of Fame. They are now in good company with Freemason Abbey and Mannino’s Italian Bistro.
Another restaurant that was new to me was Fish & Slips. In my defense, I don’t venture out to Portsmouth often, but now I may have a reason to. Fish & Slips offered their Craford Bay Corn & Crab Chowder. While the broth had a lighter consistency, the soup was jam-packed with chunks of crab meat, corn, onion, celery, bacon and (probably) more. As I’m writing this and looking at the Fish & Slips’ menu, I can picture myself starting a meal with the chowder and lump crab dip.
Tasters were clearly drawn to the soup that stood out from the rest of the entrees. Fish & Slip’ chowder earned them second place from the judges and third from the crowd.
Along with Freemason Abbey, there was another restaurant I was familiar with. Maybe a little too familiar. Ever since I moved to Virginia Beach, my go-to spot to eat when I spend the day at the beach is Calypso. I can’t even count the amount of times I’ve devoured their wings and a cup of their She Crab soup. Before I got to Calypso’s table, I had tried a few duds and was looking to treat my taste buds to something I knew would be good.
Calypso’s She Crab soup was noticeably thicker than the others. It’s filled with so much crab, you may get a shell or two. After receiving honorable mention at last year’s competition, Calypso took home third place by the judges and earned a second-place honor from the crowd.
Obviously not every soup can be a winner, but some were downright disgraceful. It was clear, when walking by tables and trashcans, which soups were the least favorite among the crowd. Here are the ones that I could barely choke down.
I read that Catch 31’s chef used crab roe in his She Crab soup recipe. I can appreciate a chef who keeps things traditional, but it didn’t translate in the final product. This soup tasted more like bland queso. There was no crab meat or crab flavor at all. Despite using roe, there wasn’t even a subtle sweetness to this soup. Ask anyone in the crowd and they would tell you to stay away from Catch 31’s table. A quick glimpse on their website shows that She Crab soup is not on their menu. That’s probably for the best.
As bad as Catch 31 was, Mahi Mah’s took first place for my least favorite. Honestly, the phrase “least favorite” is putting it lightly. It was downright foul. I made the mistake of smelling my soup first. My nose was punched with the odious scent of fish. Anytime you eat seafood, you never want it to smell or taste too fishy. Mahi Mah’s She Crab soup could’ve just been a sample-size cup of fish broth. Along with the overpowering fish taste, it was also off from what I believe was the use of too much sherry. Yelp shows mixed reviews of their recipe. Who knows? It could’ve just been a bad batch, but I’m not brave enough to try it again.
If I’m dreadfully wrong about either of these, please let me know and I’ll reconsider.