Issue: October 2012
BYPOINTS: The Pusher Man

I would first like to apologize to the city of Philadelphia, because over the years I’ve given it and a few of its citizens a hard time about the so-called "cheese steak" sandwich. You only have to be in Philly for, oh, five minutes to know that this sandwich must never be called a steak and cheese, ever, even though that is exactly what it is. It must be called a cheese steak, because . . . well, because it must. Which, excuse me, is ridiculous. When you make a sandwich with, say, ham and cheese, do you call it a cheese ham? No, you do not. Is a liver and onion sandwich ever an onion liver? Or a BLT a TLB? No and no. When you put a burger and cheese on a bun, do you call it a cheeseburger?

Wait, I’m being told that, yes, you do in fact call that a cheeseburger, and that I have shot a gigantic hole right in the middle of my own argument. Well . . . that’s okay, because I set out here to apologize, not to argue sandwich semantics. So, I’m sorry, Philly. Specifically, I’m sorry for teasing you for all your boastful talk of rib eye steak grilled and chopped just so, and of fresh hoagie rolls that must have been baked between 5 and 7 that morning by someone named Geno. I’m sorry for being so dismissive of your claim that one simply cannot get a decent, authentic cheese steak unless one is in or very near the City of Brotherly Provolone.

This all comes from my realization this summer that I now talk of Maryland crabcakes very much the way a Philadelphian talks of cheese steaks. I am a bona fide crabcake pusher. More than once in the last several months I heard myself saying, "You just won’t get a crabcake like this anywhere else," or words to that effect. And I get just as much pleasure watching someone eat a good crabcake—especially if they’re not from around here—as I do from actually eating one.

I came to realize this over the summer during a succession of Annapolis dining experiences with out-of-town visitors: first my cousin Patti, from New Jersey, then my faraway sweetheart Anita, from British Columbia, and finally my son Andy and daughter-in-law Lisa, who live in Ecuador. In every case, at least when crabcakes were an option, I found myself pushing my guests gently in that direction, while I ordered . . . something else. Make no mistake, I do eat crabcakes, early and often. But I’m here; I can get them whenever I want, all summer long. And sometimes I want a turkey Reuben instead (or should I say Reuben turkey?). So when I have out-of-town guests, it’s the best of both worlds, isn’t it? I get to enjoy a nice turkey Reuben and I get to watch someone’s face light up when they dig into that big beautiful browned baseball of crab, with lumps of crab as big as your thumb, held together by nothing but a suggestion of egg, a whisper of mayo and a dash of Maryland willpower.

With any luck, that person will have ordered the impossible-to-finish two-crabcake entree and she will bring the untouched second one home and put it in your refrigerator, and then forget it when she leaves the next day. And of course, someone has to eat it. . . .


Tim Sayles, Editor