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Order Up: We've Got Crabs!

This week in Dish, it's a crab adventure. But not just any crabs -- blue crabs from Florida's Gulf and East coasts, prepared Maryland-style or doused in garlic oil. To get this fix, we ate at two local institutions of crabbery -- Riggins Crabhouse in Lantana and Rustic Inn in Fort Lauderdale -- and put them to the test.

To aid me in my briny blue journey was a self-professed crab expert named Fenton Stanley Ridgeway IV. Ridgeway, who spent his formative days eating crabs along the Chesapeake Bay, gave me a detailed primer on how to properly eat an authentic Maryland steamed blue crab. You'll have to read the review, online now, for the whole, raw deal. Here's a little excerpt from it to tide you over.

I ask Ridgeway to show me how he makes eating the hard-shelled crabs look so easy, so he gives me a demonstration. He scoops up a fresh steamed blue crab, its shell now bright-red and caked in Old Bay seasoning, and turns it over. "This is the apron," he says, pointing to a T-shaped bit of shell wedged into the crab's belly. He slips a paring knife -- one he brought from home -- underneath the apron and peels it back. With a flick of his wrist, the top of the shell snaps off, exposing the crab's multilayer interior.

The inside of the crab looks like a Jackson Pollock painting -- a mess of yellow, gray, and brown with no discernible meat in sight. Again, Ridgeway makes it seem easy. "These gray-looking fingers are the lungs. Don't eat those. They'll make you sick." He plucks the fingers out and discards them in a wooden bowl. "The yellow stuff is the mustard. Some people like to eat that. I don't."

I try the mustard, also known as the crab's hepatopancreas, a digestive gland. It's deep, briny, and pungent. I love it straight away.

We've also got a slideshow of photos from Rustic Inn available. Take a look here.

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