No, I didn’t eat the crab live. But I did eat Dungeness crabs that, upon my request, were pulled live from a tank of seawater next to the ocean in which they once scavenged before being tied into a mesh bag, steamed over boiling seawater in a giant cinder-block stove, cleaned and cracked, and brought (still warm!) to a picnic table overlooking the water at which I sat with with friends who have known me since before I could legally drink alcohol. We got some steamed clams too.
The shells on the left are filled with “crab butter” – a mixture of the crab’s natural fat and seawater that comes out as the crab is cleaned. I’ve eaten a lot of Dungeness crab in my day. I don’t want to start any fights or anything, but I like crab more than lobster. A lot more. A bite or two of lobster and I’m all set. But crab? I could eat it all the live-long day. I had never had “crab butter” though. I am now fluctuating between joy at having discovered it and rage at all the crab I ate without it.
These crabs and clams and friends and beers were all enjoyed in the clear, bright sunshine of a glorious stretch of summer weather on the Oregon coast. As I tried to pick crab with a plastic fork and a toothpick (FYI, in my experience the best crab-picking utensil is a chopstick) and cut my fingers on the shells and got spritzed with crab juice whenever someone cracked a claw by pounding it with a beer bottle, I felt lucky.
As the sign near the tables stated: “This is not a restaurant. Clean up after yourself.”
Sure, they cook food for you which you eat there, but the sign is right: it isn’t a restaurant. It is a boat launch/marina with a stand where you could clean your catch and/or buy crabs, clams, and oysters to take home live or steamed. There are picnic tables next to the stand. Inside the little store is the usual assortment of convenience store items (including soft drinks, beer and wine), as well as paper cups with 4 tablespoons of butter in them in the fridge, a microwave, lemons, a cutting board next to the microwave, and a wide array of pirate- and crab-themed hats hanging from the ceiling.
If you want to melt some butter in the microwave and cut up a lemon and eat your steamed shellfish there, no one is going to stop you. But it’s not a restaurant.
We went twice. Feeling pretty clever the second time at having figured out the system. Feeling pretty clever until a couple arranged themselves at the table next to us with a rice cooker, a pan of some sort of kim chi-looking dish, plates, cloth napkins, and a full spectrum of seafood-eating utensils including, yes, chopsticks.
We were instantaneously turned into a humbling combination of amateurs (for not having brought the right stuff) and barbarians (for being forced to do things like crack the crab claws by banging on them with our beer bottles).
And with that we threw our shells, as the signs instructed, back into the water from which they came and headed home. Summer, for me at least, was officially over. I’m already making plans to go back to the Oregon coast; this time donned in old clothes, with a shell cracker and side dishes in hand.