Well, since the Rockets set a record by losing a playoff seventh game by 40 points tonight, I'll try to get my mind off the carnage by reporting a bit on the Texas Crab Festival – an event held in Crystal Beach every Mother's Day weekend that I've been wanting to head out to for a few years now – never really worked out timing wise until this year. I was able to talk my Mom, Dad and Jaime into heading out to the festival today.
The food was unique and downright good, which I guess is the whole point of something like this. Entry fees were $7, which considering the prices of the food once you got in were actually a bit high. However, the musical entertainment was good, with a constant lineup of performers on the main stage at Gregory park in Crystal Beach. My Dad's not one to sit and listen to music, so I wasn't able to enjoy the performances as much as I might have liked (I also didn't have a chair, which made sitting and enjoying much of anything a little bit difficult).
Started the day off with a batch of 'Mr. T's' barbecued ribs on a stick, $5. Basically, pork riblets grilled on skewers and mopped in BBQ sauce. Not bad, but not great either. Jaime ordered lemonade at a non-unique (i.e. nothing out of the ordinary, food-wise – just sausage on a stick and turkey legs) stand, but the lemonade was actually fresh squeezed in front of us, and was super good. $3 for about a 20 oz cup. On top of this, the booth gave $2 refills if you brought back the cup (which she did a number of times).
After looping around the food area again and thoroughly enjoying the backing music of Lil' Bit and the Customatics, we found the crab side of the food booths. I had a softshell crab sandwich ($5), which is basically like eating an entire crab, shell and all, on a bun. I also spoke with the booth workers, who were actual crabbers from Bolivar, and they explained the techniques behind softshell crabbing. Contrary to what I thought, May is really nothing special for crab season, other then it being the beginning. Basically, crabbing is good all summer long – as long as the water is warm. Catching softshell crab is also done all year (again, something I thought happened mainly in the late spring), and is a bit of a timing issue. The process starts with catching crabs in the wild, and sorting out the ones that are about to molt (crabs have to molt in order to grow, as the outer carapace cannot get larger, but the crabs body can and does). A softshell crab is a normal crab that has molted within the previous 48 hours – during this period, the crab's 'new' shell is soft – soft enough to eat, actually. Before the molting begins, the crab's shell begins to open up ever so slightly. The crabber looks for this, and isolates these individuals so that they can be harvested at exactly the moment when the molting takes place. Then they get deep fried and put on a bun, and voila – crab sandwich.
After the crab sandwich I found a booth selling barbecued crabs – basically, crabs grilled over a smoke fire and covered in BBQ sauce. Because I didn't have any kind of tool to crack shells, I wasted some claw meat – but for the most part, I thoroughly enjoyed the smoky, BBQ flavor of the rich lump crabmeat, nice and sweet like early season blue crab generally tastes like. The half dozen I got was $9, and came with a warning to avoid the sharp spines on the outer part of the crab's body – a good warning for first timers. The first time I ever ate crab I sliced the he** out of my fingers on these spines. I was a little more careful this time, and only poked my thumb once.
My Mom bought a unique dish – crab nachos ($5). These were simply ballpark nachos with about a half pound of fresh lump crabmeat piled on top. Really good – I wish it was something I could get at a movie theater or at an Astros game. This dish at home probably would have cost at least $12, just for the crabmeat. Because crabmeat has to be 'picked' from the shell, harvesting is a manual process, and so the meat is pretty expensive.
I walked back to the cajun side of the food area to get another beer and get Jaime a refill on lemonade, and walked up to a place selling something called 'pistolettes'. I asked what these were, and was told they are some type of cajun/French roll, similar to a pastry roll (with layers of buttery dough making a flaky roll). The rolls are called 'pistolettes', and in coon-ass country are stuffed with different items and deep fried. I ordered a crawfish and cheese pistolette ($2.75), and it was pretty darn good.
Once I finished my beer, I walked up to a root beer stand – the husband-wife team running it apparently make the Texas festival rounds, as they were from Tyler but talked about making the 'circuit' with the root beer trailer behind them. The booth had a poster describing how the owner's grandfather had shown him how to make root beer, and indeed it's one of the very few times I've had root beer off of a tap. It was pretty good ($3 for a 12 oz mug).
So all in all it was a good trip. Unique food, good prices, good music – not much more you can ask for from a small town festival.
On the way back, we stopped at Milt's seafood in Port Bolivar, a small seafood packing house that also houses a general store where seafood (and especially shrimp) caught fresh in the bay can be purchased off the boats that dock right outside in the intracoastal waterway. I spoke to my mother, and next year we want to rent a beach house for the weekend in Crystal, spend Friday night, head out to Milt's when they open to pick up the freshest shrimp we can get, and then barbecue them for lunch, maybe make some gumbo as well. Later, we'll head over to Gergory park with some lawn chairs, sit and enjoy the music and eat crabs all night.