Get crackin’: An ABC guide to eating crab in the Lower Columbia

Story by Heather Douglas • Photos by Colin Murphey

From one-of-a-kind dishes, like Dungeness crab savory cheesecake or crab empanadas, to live crab from the tank or a grab-’n’-go crab cocktail for an impromptu picnic on the beach, there are quite a few tempting ways to enjoy fresh, local crab in the Lower Columbia region. Grab your crab cracker and bib just in case: This crab safari may get a little messy. Behold, the ABCs: a seafood lover’s guide to eating crab on our coast.

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The Dungeness Crab Deviled Egg dish at the Albatross Restaurant features a housemade filling with a generous portion of crab.

Albatross & Co.

255 14th St., Astoria, OREGON

In the mood for Dungeness with a twist? Albatross Restaurant offers a Dungeness Crab Deviled Egg on their regular menu. The housemade Thousand Island filling is nestled inside a boiled egg, topped with fresh crab meat and smoked paprika. For a classic option, owner and chef Eric Bechard suggests ordering a half Dungeness crab in shell: “It’s served with housemade cocktail sauce, lime-chili mignonette, Old Bay mayo, crackers, and lemon; the customer does the cracking — very rewarding!” Bechard sources crab from Oregon and Washington through Northwest Wild Products and direct from local crabbers.

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The Crab Mac ’n Cheese at Baked Alaska arrives at the table in a custom skillet.

Baked Alaska

1 12th St., Astoria, OREGON

Baked Alaska on the docks offers their Crab Mac ’n Cheese using locally sourced Dungeness crab from Ocean Beauty. Beau Hogge, the head chef, described the experience as such: “It’s a velvety cream Béchamel-style sauce using mostly asiago cheese. It’s topped with Parmesan, toasted breadcrumbs, and arrives to the table in a skillet, bubbling hot.”

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Ryan Smith processes fresh Dungeness crab at Bell Buoy in Seaside.

Bell Buoy

1800 S. Roosevelt Drive, Seaside, OREGON

Right off U.S. Highway 101 in Seaside, Bell Buoy has been a family-owned Seafood supplier for more than 50 years. Stop by for cooked whole crabs, crab legs and meat, and a crab cocktail to go.

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The Dungeness crab cheesecake at Bridgewater Bistro in Astoria is a savory take on the classic dish.

Bridgewater Bistro

20 Basin St., Astoria, OREGON

The Bridgewater Bistro features local Dungeness crab in two different dishes on their dinner menu. Their unique appetizer is a savory cheesecake, which consists of crab meat folded into a base over a toasted pecan crust. The top is drizzled with a rich wild mushroom meunière butter sauce. “The dish is based on a similar one we had years ago in New Orleans,” owners Tony and Ann Kischner said. “However, our Dungeness crab is much more flavorful here on the Oregon Coast than the lump crab found in the Gulf.” The second dish is a Dungeness Crab Mac ’n Cheese with chunks of crab meat, and a mascarpone Mornay sauce cooked with crab stock and tarragon. All Dungeness is sourced locally from Ocean Beauty Seafoods in Astoria.

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The Dungeness crab artichoke dip at Carruthers in downtown Astoria is an artfully plated dish.

Carruthers Restaurant

1198 Commercial St., Astoria, OREGON

At Carruthers, a fine-dining establishment in Astoria, Head Chef Daniel Brownson sources crab locally from Ocean Beauty to make their popular crab artichoke dip, which starts with whole roasted artichokes hollowed out to hold a creamy artichoke crab dip that’s prepared with a white miso base and topped with manchego cheese. It’s served with rustic bread and brown butter for extra dipping pleasure.

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The crab cakes at Clemente’s Cafe and Public House in Astoria come with a stunning view of the Columbia River.

Clemente’s Cafe and Public House

175 14th St., Astoria, OREGON

Co-owners and chefs Gordon Clemente and Lisa Tarabochia emphasize local, sustainable, and wild ingredients. Tarabochia, who comes from a multi-generational local fishing family, offers up her coveted family crab cakes recipe: Dungeness Crab Cakes served with a rémoulade and a house salad. Their Crab Louie is made with locally caught Dungeness crab and offered with a side of local seasonal vegetables and fruit, served with a housemade Louie dressing.

Driftwood Restaurant & Lounge

179 N. Hemlock St., Cannon Beach, OREGON

Venture down the coast to Cannon Beach, where the Driftwood Restaurant & Lounge features 100 percent Dungeness Crab sourced from Bell Buoy. Among other options such as a Crab Louie, crab cocktail, and crab roll sandwich, the “Crab Casserole” has been a menu standard for 30-plus years. The ultimate comfort dish features baked Parmesan, cheddar, and Dungeness crab. A second unique option is only offered on Fridays and Saturdays: a sautéed crab leg out of the shell with white wine, butter, and garlic.

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The dish known as ‘Robin’s Favorite’ at Finn’s Fish House in Seaside is a decadent option with Dungeness over panko-crusted chicken.

Finns Fish House

227 Broadway St., Seaside, OREGON

If surf ’n’ turf is your fancy, head to Seaside to Finns Fish House. Add a “crab section” — which could be a half crab or simply a leg section — to any entrée, such as steak. They also offer whole cooked crab sourced from Ocean Beauty as well as a Dungeness Crab Melt with a large portion of local crab. For the pasta lovers, “Robin’s Favorite” is a panko-crusted chicken topped with Dungeness Crab and pepper jack cheese served over a white wine fettuccine Alfredo.

Hanthorn Crab Company

100 39th St., Astoria, OREGON

The Hanthorn Crab Company sits inside Pier 39 behind the Rogue Ales Public House. Owner Tom Hilton sells seasonal, fresh, local, sustainable live crab from the tank and whole cooked crab to grab ’n’ go. Hilton also makes a crab melt — what Astorians would call “clown bread,” he said. Another item to check out are the crab cakes with large portions of crab and very little binding — a recipe Hilton is particularly proud of — that can be purchased precooked or ready to take home and cook.

Mo’s Seafood and Chowder

101 15th St., Astoria, OREGON

Certainly not new to Oregon but definitely the ‘new kid on the block’ in Astoria, Mo’s Seafood and Chowder recently landed in Astoria on the Riverwalk near the Maritime Museum. While not strictly sourced locally, they do utilize local whenever possible and provide an affordable foray into crab eating here on the coast. Their signature crab dish is a “Hot Crab Melt” — a salad-style mix with a combination of Dungeness and rock crab topped with melted cheddar cheese served on toasted garlic Parmesan cheese bread.

Northwest Wild Products

354 Industry St., Astoria, OREGON

If cooking at home is more your speed, choose your own crab dinner out of the live tanks down on the docks at the West End Mooring Basin. Northwest Wild Products is one of a small number of outfits that offers a live-tank option as well as both retail and wholesale options. Their Dungeness crab is local, wild, and sourced from local fishermen. For a no-fuss option, try their “Whole Crab Dinner,” which includes everything you need: a whole crab, homemade clam chowder, green salad with shrimp, and garlic bread to go.

Ole Bob’s Seafood Market

151 Howerton Ave. S.E., Ilwaco, WASHINGTON

Located at the Port of Ilwaco on the Long Beach Peninsula, Ole Bob’s is part seafood market and part “Galley Café.” In addition to grab ’n’ go live from the tank and precooked whole crab sourced from Puget Sound, they offer an à-la-carte option to take on a picnic or to the beach, or grab a picnic table and gaze at the boats in the port: a crab cocktail complete with utensils, crackers, and homemade cocktail sauce.

To complete that picnic experience, grab a crab melt on sourdough bread with red roasted pepper sauce and cheddar served with homemade coleslaw. Manager and Chef Laura Villar recommends the crab cakes: “They are made with 85-percent crab meat and just a bit of breading to hold them together, served with a red pepper sauce — they are an old family recipe.” Crab empanadas are another unique offering, Villar added: “I am from South America and we do empanadas; we offer a crab empanada appetizer that people love.”

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The open-faced crab melt at Pacific Way Bakery and Cafe in Gearhart is just one of several crab dishes on the menu.

Pacific Way Bakery & Cafe

601 Pacific Way, Gearhart, OREGON

Heading back to the Oregon coast, in Gearhart you’ll find Pacific Way Bakery & Café. Try their Crab Louie served with a hardboiled egg, a creamy housemade relish-style Thousand Island dressing, and an ample portion of crab. A special dish on the dinner menu is the crab ravioli. The raviolis are handmade by a small company in Portland with local Dungeness crab. The simple but elegant dish is served with homemade Alfredo sauce, fresh grated Parmesan cheese, and another portion of fresh Dungeness to top off the dish.

Pickled Fish

409 Sid Snyder Drive, Long Beach, WASHINGTON

Pickled Fish sources their Dungeness crab right off the boat from local fisherman at the Port of Ilwaco. The Crab Linguini is made with fresh housemade pasta, butter fish sauce, preserved lemon, and local wild herbs. Crab cakes feature dill, horseradish, stoneground mustard, and panko bread crumbs. The restaurant also offers whole cooked crab during peak season with drawn butter, traditional Old Bay seasoning and a hint of coriander.

Pig ’n Pancake

146 Bond St., Astoria, OREGON

323 Broadway St., Seaside, OREGON

223 S. Hemlock St., Cannon Beach, OREGON

If you wake up in the morning craving crab, remember your ABCs and check out the Pig ‘n Pancake’s Dungeness Crab Omelette sourced local from Ocean Beauty topped with melted Tillamook cheddar and served with cocktail sauce. Three locations to try: Astoria, Seaside, and Cannon Beach. For later in the day, try their Crab Benedict, Crab Louie, or Crab Melt.

Silver Salmon

1105 Commercial St., Astoria, OREGON

Sourced local from Ocean Beauty, Silver Salmon features a Dungeness crab Brie appetizer dip, served like fondue with crostinis for dipping. Their signature seafood dinner called “Silver Salmon Supreme” is wild Chinook salmon stuffed with Dungeness crab cakes and shrimp.

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The Dungeness Crab ‘Scandahoovian’ Mac at T Paul’s Supper Club in Astoria features three kinds of cheese.

T Paul’s Urban Cafe

& T Paul’s Supper Club

1119 Commercial St., and 360 12th St., Astoria, OREGON

Sister restaurants T Paul’s Urban Cafe and T Paul’s Supper Club are co-owned by longtime locals: uncle (Chadd-Paul Flues II) and niece (Teona Marie Dawson). The Dungeness crab in the Greek Crab Quesadilla is sourced from the local Bornstein family via Ocean Beauty, and the melty rich dish features feta, garlic, basil, sun-dried tomatoes, red onion, spinach, Monterey Jack and cheddar cheese. Come dinnertime at The Urban, the same dish is dressed up and becomes “The Fiesta,” which includes a bay shrimp topped salad and clam chowder. For the ultimate comfort crab dishes, try the Dungeness Crab Fettuccine, Dungeness Crab Melt on a croissant, the Dungeness Crab Ravioli and at The Supper Club, a Dungeness Crab “Scandahoovian” Mac that includes crab, garlic, three cheeses, elbow macaroni, and toasted bread crumbs.

Warrenton Deep Sea

Crab & Fish Market

45 N.E. Harbor Place, Warrenton, OREGON

If à-la-carte is more your speed, Warrenton Deep Sea — a fish market near the Warrenton-Hammond Marina — has both live and cooked whole crabs to go, as well as crab legs and crab meat. A no-fuss way to enjoy fresh Dungeness crab: Grab one of their crab cocktails and enjoy it at Fort Stevens’s Peter Iredale shipwreck.

The Wayfarer Restaurant & Lounge

1190 Pacific Drive, Cannon Beach, OREGON

Executive Chef Josh Archibald from the Wayfarer, just feet from the beach in Cannon Beach, said that “to optimize freshness, the crab is delivered within hours of picking local from Astoria — up to five days a week if we desire, and we always use 100 percent Dungeness.”

For breakfast, check out their Crab Cake Benedict, which features their crab cakes on a housemade English muffin with poached Zweifel farm eggs and a housemade hollandaise sauce. For lunch, the Crab Sandwich features a toasted baguette with Boursin cheese and Beecher’s Flagship White Cheddar. For lighter fare, a crab cocktail with shaved celery and a horseradish vinaigrette rounds out lunch. Crab cakes, a staple at The Wayfarer, are served in some form for every meal; no bread or filling is used but rather a seafood mousse with heavy cream and prawns binds the cakes served with a housemade lemon herb aioli. Whole cooked crabs are also offered at dinner time seasonally from a featured fishing vessel.

As crab season reaches full stride, crab boats are often within view from the Wayfarer dining room. Archibald said that “sometimes as many as eight or 10 crab boats can be counted on the horizon near Haystack Rock as the sun sets. Crab that is potentially only a few hundred yards away — that is a chef’s dream!”

In addition to grab ’n’ go live from the tank and precooked whole crab sourced from Puget Sound, Ole Bob’s offers an à-la-carte option to take on a picnic or to the beach.

Executive Chef Josh Archibald from the Wayfarer, just feet from the beach in Cannon Beach, says that to optimize freshness, the crab is delivered within hours of picking local from Astoria.

For the ultimate comfort crab dishes, try the Dungeness Crab Fettuccine or Crab Ravioli at T. Paul’s Supper Club.