I'm still recovering from all the Old Bay seasoning I ingested on my trip a while back to the Old Bay HQ of the world, Baltimore. I mean both through mouth and eyes, since not only does the city's seafood rarely leave the kitchen without a dusting (ranging from light sprinkling to thick carpet) of this snappy seasoning, the city was also awash with Old Bay iconography.
My first encounter was with the above giant can on view at Harbor Center, the food and entertainment-plex that hugs the city's Inner Harbor. Fringed with a toupee of touristic plush Maryland crabs, the display got me thinking of one of my favorite foods in the world; softshell crabs.
Then came this exciting drive-by siting of a five-story tall Old Bay can on the front of an otherwise undistinguished-looking parking garage at the corner of President and Pratt Streets. I love how they dubbed the place "Old Bay Garage" as well as the welter of parking signage and arrows, all of it topped by one of those ubiquitous mini-mall peaked roofs and what is either an Old Bay shield or perhaps the state seal of Maryland (maybe one and the same?).
Though my heart was set on a feast of softshell crabs seasoned with Old Bay, I didn't find it at the lovely Black Olive restaurant in Fells Point, where delicious fish and lamb dishes and the most politely Old World server ruled. However, I did discover that this was an especially important time for Old Bay, and that I had stumbled into a massive celebration of the seasoning's 70th anniversary (or somewhere near there, it's a little unclear exactly when the company was born).
The "Summer of Baytriotism" was an official deal, which accounted for the extra OB voltage around town, including the 82-ton can of Old Bay on the parking garage. There was an Old Bay recipe competition, and another for the title of "Voice of Old Bay Radio," which went to the person who could mangle their vowels in the best Baltimore manner and sound the most old-timey while at it.
Ground Zero for the celebration seemed to be Miss Shirley's, where the celebration kicked off, and where plastic Old Bay bottles elbowed out taller competition for top billing in tabletop condiment racks.
After gobbling down this softshell "BLT" Benedict, featuring cornmeal-crusted softshell, red and yellow tomatoes, smoked bacon on sourdough rounds and Old Bay remoulade, my quest was over.
Though I could recreate this dish as home, I somehow can't get myself to use the can of Old Bay my Maryland cousin gave me, even though I know Baltimoreans around the globe have it shipped to them in order to recreate the taste of home. For an outsider, it's just not the same unless you get your Old Bay at the source.