- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Gunning’s Seafood Restaurant is one of the best places around Washington to satisfy a craving for spicy, hot crabs.

The down-home service and fresh fare make up for the absence of a water view. The longtime family-operated traditional crab house is located in a strip mall in Hanover, Md., near Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport.

Deep-fried fare is pretty standard at a crab house, but if you want a unique appetizer, try the legendary fried pepper rings ($4.99). Slices of green sweet peppers are battered and fried golden, then dusted with powdered sugar. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? It’s actually much like a funnel cake - until your teeth sink into that green pepper. Then all you can do is wonder at the sweetness of the pepper and how the touch of sugar draws out that flavor even more.

As Gunning’s is a crab house, crab dip and crab balls must be on the menu.

A combo sampler delivers large breaded shrimp, crab balls, mozzarella sticks and Buffalo wings (three of each).

The cream of crab ($3.99 a cup) and vegetable crab ($2.99 a cup) soups are just two of several long-running Gunning family recipes on the order sheet.

The cream of crab soup appeared at first to be a disappointment - its texture was like pudding. Bracing for the starchy disappointment such consistency usually delivers, I took a heaping spoonful. I got melt-in-your-mouth silkiness. The flavors were traditional, with just the right touch of spice and a generous serving of crab.

The same was true for the vegetable version: chock-full of veggies and crab and with just the right spice.

A bowl of the house salad is delivered to each table along with rolls and butter. The salad was the standard iceberg lettuce with cucumbers, tomatoes and onions, accented with shredded cheese and crunchy croutons. A pepper-Parmesan dressing was creamy and rich but didn’t drown the fresh greens.

Of course, the main event at Gunning’s is the piping-hot steamed crabs - trucked in daily from the Chesapeake Bay or flown in from Louisiana and Texas, depending on time of the year.

On this recent visit, Gunning’s was serving Maryland crabs - and they come at a hefty price. A dozen medium males were $45, large $68, extra large $78 and jumbo $90. Expensive? Oh, yeah - but many a crab aficionado probably would prefer to pay $4 to $5 per crab than $4 to $5 for a gallon of gasoline.

We had a dozen large crabs. With all the other food, I could just eat four of them - perfect with a couple glasses of cold draft beer. The spice Gunning’s uses is a homemade concoction, spicier and with coarser salt than the familiar Old Bay Seasoning.

There are options for those not into the crab-picking mess.

The crab fluff ($13.99) is a jumbo lump crab cake dipped in batter and fried. About the size of a baseball, the cake was bursting with sweet, juicy lumps of tender crab. Very small amounts of well-seasoned filler held the crab together for the frying process. The seasoning seemed to be raised just a notch, so it was hearty enough to carry the heavy batter yet did not detract from the crab.

Stuffed broiled flounder ($23.99) offered three generous fillets covered with rich crab imperial.

Sandwiches are aplenty: crab cake, soft-shell crab, shrimp salad and grilled tuna steak, along with land offerings of teriyaki chicken, Texas steak, hot roast beef or a half-pound Angus chuck hamburger.

Desserts are homemade and ranged from Gunning’s well known eclair ($4.29) to coconut cake to strawberry shortcake. Peach cake ($3.99) was a large two-layer wedge of yellow cake, tender and dense, almost like pound cake. It was topped and filled with a tempting whipped-cream concoction and sliced peaches.

RESTAURANT: Gunning’s Seafood Restaurant, 7304 Parkway Drive, Hanover, Md.; 410/712-9404

HOURS: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 11 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 9 p.m.

PRICES: Soups and salads $2.99 to $10.99; appetizers $4.99 to $16.49; sandwiches $5.99 to $12.99; steamed crabs market price; entrees $12.99 to $23.99; children’s platters $4.99; desserts $1.99 to $12.99

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards

RESERVATIONS: First come, first served

PARKING: On-site

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

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