Next Sunday Meet New Amsterdam’s Newest: Maryland Crab Cakes and Succotash

Joe Pfeifer at New Amsterdam Market. Photograph by Cheryl Chan

New York has an love affair with lobster rolls, says Joe Pfeifer, the man behind National Crab, but that is about to change as he introduces Manhattanites to his wondrously sweet crab cakes, made from Chesapeake Bay’s blue crabs. Last Sunday he debuted at the New Amsterdam Market; he can be found there every other week until December, selling authentic Maryland crab cakes– each one made from voluptuous chunks of crab bound with mayo and seasonings.

“There’s a little bit of hometown pride involved,” says Pfeifer, a Baltimore native who has worked in Manhattan as a graphic designer and at Chelsea galleries the past 10 years. He was driven to recreate the authentic cake of his childhood when he couldn’t find a suitable version here, and says his desire is “to shed light on good crab.” He points out that “it’s the other crustacean, but it doesn’t get much love.”

Pfeifer acknowledges that lobsters are great: However his aim in starting National Crab is “a little bit of trying to counter balance the whole lobster infatuation of New York City.” He views himself as “selling a slice of Chesapeake Bay” and giving more exposure to the sweet crab meat of his home state.

He reminisces that in Maryland, crabs are comfort food. “Growing up in Baltimore,” “Blue crabs and crab cakes are [what we eat], like pizza is in New York,” explains Pfeifer, “or tacos in LA. You don’t even have to think about it.”

Blue crabs are a “cultural thing” and “a big part of life in the summer in Baltimore” says Pfeifer. He observes that most blue crabs served in New York “come from Asia, Florida, and southern states from Carolina all the way to Texas,” specimens he thinks lack the sweet flavor that is the distinguishing trait of Chesapeake Bay blue crab.

At New Amsterdam’s opening day on June 5, National Crab sold out of their 300 mini crab cake balls an hour before closing time. Next weekend, Pfeifer will dish up larger crab cakes with a side of lima bean, corn, tomato and basil succotash in a vinaigrette dressing. (A spiffed up rendition on a traditional accompaniment to Maryland crab cakes.)

As a new start up that began in January at the Foodshed Market in the Commons on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, Pfeifer opted for the pop-up route into the food world for its low cost of entry. He left his job as a graphic designer last December to freelance and start National Crab. He choose New Amsterdam, for its reputation as “a foodie’s market,” and likes the market’s ethos of selling local food with from within a 500-mile radius of Manhattan.

Pfeifer uses wild caught crab from Cambridge, Maryland, that he picks up every Thursday morning from The New Fulton Fish Market in the Bronx. “Always fresh, never frozen,” is National’s motto. Pfeifer shares that National Crab is made “the old fashioned way” from his grandfather’s recipe without fillers like onions, peppers and celery, with the slightest addition of egg and mayonnaise to bind the crab flesh together. A purist, Pfeifer counsels that Chesapeake Bay crabs don’t require additional sauce, “as the crab already has so much flavor.” Hence, National serves them without dipping sauces; tartar or mayo that would mask the sweet ocean taste of the flesh. “With blue crabs specifically from Chesapeake Bay, you don’t have to do much to it,” warns Pfeifer, “and if you do, you’re going to ruin it.”

Find National Crab, on alternate Sundays at the New Amsterdam Market from now till December. New Amsterdam is held every Sunday, 11am to 4pm, at the old Fulton Fish Market, on South Street between Beekman Street and Peck Slip.

Published in Edible Manhattan:

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