Novelty Quest: Crab Night

The Hideaway Tribeca crabsThe second post in a series exploring novel experiences in the area—because do you ever feel more alive than when you’re trying something new? It’s by Caroline Wilson Kaufman, a writer in the beauty industry who lives in Tribeca.

During the summer, The Hideaway on Duane Street receives a weekly shipment of jumbo Maryland blue crabs flown directly from the Chesapeake Bay to be steamed, seasoned, and served by the bucketful on Sundays and Mondays. This isn’t new to Tribeca, but it’s new to me, so I set out to find out what this summertime throwback is all about.

I got there at 7 p.m. with my friend and colleague Cedric, who knows his way around a crustacean, and the bar was pretty busy. The aroma of Old Bay told me I was in the right place, and the warm red lighting made the bar feel energized and intimate, in a college party kind of way. Groups were already tucked into their banquets and hammering away at their dinner.

The Hideaway TribecaWe had to wait about an hour to land a bar stool, but found enough standing room at the bar to avoid interrupting the dissections nearby. The drinking options include boutique whiskies and a selection of local beers on tap—which is to say that everything was shaping up to be more than expected. We went with some wine, and I spent my sipping time studying how the diners pounded, cracked, scooped, and picked at the shells.

Once we sat, the bartender encouraged us to order quickly. The Hideaway receives a limited number of crabs, and it sells out more often than not. The kitchen offers an abbreviated menu on Crab Nights to allow the time and space to prep the crabs. The crabs are available to order in quantities of 3, 6 or 12. We opted for 6 ($70). White paper was spread out in front of us, along with a super-sized shaker of Old Bay, “house recipe” malt vinegar, a roll of paper towels, and a canister of tools—mallet, claw cracker, long forks. Then a server arrived with a large silver bucket from which she dumped out the catch.

Cedric coached me through it. He had an effective stab-and-twist technique with his fork that popped the shell open all at once. I copied his trick, but just as I was about to dig in, he stopped me. It turns out that there are parts of the crab, including gills and abdomen, that you can’t eat. I wondered if anyone would have told me.

Once my technique was squared away, Cedric and I got to work, elbow to elbow. The crabs tasted ultra-fresh and the meat—when I successfully extracted it—was sweet and tender. Adding the malt vinegar gave it a kick. I’m told that throwing beer over a just-steamed batch is the traditional way to do it. Cracking open crab shells is messy, occasionally painful, and slow going, but the shared task was a bonding experience, and it gave us the luxury of time to talk as we ate.

The Hideaway Tribeca crab workLooking around, I saw that there was a happy communion happening all around us. A big group of coworkers had taken over the back. Four friends had a full spread by the front window. Next to me, a young banker was having a beer with his parents, and I had a flashback to my parents visiting me when I first moved to New York after college. The Hideaway, I should mention, was started by two guys from Duke (my alma mater), who named it after the on-campus bar—maybe that added to the nostalgia.

By the end of our meal, I decided that this whole thing wasn’t so much about the crabs as it was about the company. I wouldn’t have known going in, but my Hideaway takeaway was that the shared ritual, the scraped-up hands, and the hard-earned bites are what make Crab Night special. OK, and the crabs.

Crab Night at the Hideaway ends Sept. 26.

The Hideaway Tribeca signPrevious Novelty Quest posts:
••• The Willy Wall