- The Washington Times - Monday, July 30, 2007

STEVENSVILLE, Md. — Move over, corn dogs. A Maryland version of the fair favorite — a tube of spiced crab meat rolled in pastry dough and deep-fried — is making a go at concession stands across the region.

The Chesapeake Crab Dawgs look more like crab cakes than hot dogs, and like many culinary inventions they were created by accident.

In 1994, a Cub Scout pack led by a Kent Island man was missing some ingredients for a fair treat called a crab cone. Left with a pile of crab meat and some pizza dough, Calvin Martin thought of wrapping the crab meat in dough and deep-frying it. Visitors to an Annapolis seafood festival loved it.

His Cub Scouts named the creation Crab Dawgs and took to whipping them up for fundraisers. The Martin boys grew up, but one of them, Nathan Martin, now 27, didn’t want to give up on the fried-crab creations.

Almost 15 years of experimentation later, Crab Dawgs now come in a puff pastry dough and can be fried, grilled or baked. Mr. Martin spent last summer selling them out of a white trailer before going into business with investors Melanie and Jeff Klein, who stumbled upon Mr. Martin selling the Crab Dawgs in a Kent Island parking lot.

“It tastes like a crab cake,” Mrs. Klein said. “It’s amazing.”

The fledgling company is selling at county fairs and festivals this summer in Maryland, Delaware and Virginia, and has signed a distribution deal with wholesaler Harbor House Seafood of Seaford, Del. The Kleins and Mr. Martin envision a day when Crab Dawgs are sold in grocery stores, featured in stadiums and even served at weddings, sliced with a parsley garnish.

“People are skeptical, but when they try it, they want more,” Mr. Martin said.

Crab Dawgs are about 6 inches long and turn golden brown when fried. They sell for $6, and customers can add Old Bay spice, cocktail sauce or hot sauce to them before eating. There’s no bun because of the pastry shell’s doughy exterior.

“We think it’s a great product for sporting events,” Mr. Martin said. “You don’t see a lot of seafood now, but this could work.”

The operation is small for now, just a white trailer that Mr. Martin and the Kleins drive to events. Mr. Martin says it takes about five minutes to cook a batch, but plans are in the works to get equipment to make greater numbers.

The Crab Dawgs got their biggest audience last month at a NASCAR race at Dover International Speedway and have been served to metal rockers Godsmack and Def Leppard at First Mariner Arena in Baltimore.

“We see the potential for this product to be nationwide — maybe international — we have that much confidence in them,” Mr. Martin said.

But the company still has to overcome the common question — what is a Crab Dawg? Some customers are so perplexed that a description is on the exterior of the trailer. And at least one restaurant owner says customers need a little convincing before trying one.

“It just didn’t take off for us,” said Al Wysong, owner of the Big Owl Tiki Bar on Kent Island, which once sold Crab Dawgs but took them off the menu. “People just didn’t know what they were. Every time people saw them on the menu, they asked, ‘What’s a Crab Dawg?’ Even if they saw a picture, they didn’t know what it was.”

A dry-erase board inside the company’s Stevensville headquarters holds a large calendar with upcoming events. Nearly every weekend is blocked off for a county fair or festival.

“So far the response has been pretty overwhelming,” Mrs. Klein said. “We hope it explodes. We have a lot of dreams and a lot of hopes for this company.”

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