Menu items come and go, but few stay the same for more than two decades. At Shaw's Crab House, which has locations in River North and Schaumburg, one item that's never changed is the crab cake.
"We tried a lot of different recipes, but I think the key for us has been finding the right crab meat," said Steve LaHaie of Shaw's.
They have three types: jumbo lump, claw, and backfin.
First, the chef whisks together beaten eggs with a rich mustard-mayonnaise. Then, he combines the fin and claw meat in a giant pan, along with some fine breadcrumbs. That gets incorporated, and finally, he adds the egg-mayo mixture, using his hands once again. The jumbo lump is folded in at the end, which gives the cake good texture. The crab cake is scooped out, then grilled, just until the outer edges are browned; it's finished off in the oven.LaHaie says the crabcake's mixture of different pieces of crab makes it unique among its peers.
"We like a combination of all three. You get three different flavors, kind of three different textures," LaHaie said.
Just a few blocks away, inside the James Hotel, David Burke's Primehouse is known for their steaks, but they also offer one of the most creative crab cake dishes in town. Think luscious crab salad, embedded with bits of bell pepper and chive, seasoned with some lemon zest and Old Bay seasoning.
Once everything is incorporated in a bowl, the chef lays down some Japanese Pocky pretzel sticks, and pipe the crab salad onto a cracker "raft." More pretzel sticks cover it, and the package is tied up with chives. Then, it's dipped into a tempura batter, and sprinkled on the sides with mustard seeds, before hitting a deep fryer for two minutes.
"We're really creative here. So, it's old school, gone crazy. You have that cracker element with the Pocky pretzels, and it looks like a crazy hot dog, if you will, with the mustard seeds on the outside. And it's kind of a fun presentation," said Rick Gresh, the chef of David Burke's Primehouse.
Beneath the crab cake, there is kumquat-honey-poppy seed jam, along with a swoosh of mango-mayo.
"It brings out the citrus tones, where it cuts through all that richness, the acid in the mango, the acid in the kumquat cuts through that fat that we use," said Gresh.
Other fine crab cake dishes reside at Keefer's and Harry Caray's, both of which are in River North.
Shaw's Crab House
21 E. Hubbard St.
1900 E Higgins Rd.
33 W. Kinzie
20 W. Kenzie
David Burke's Primehouse
616 N. Rush St.