When Baltimore residents M.J. Medlar and her husband, Steve Jones, first moved to Colorado, there was no place for the couple to find Maryland-style crab cakes and other seafood favorites.

In 2011, they started their own business, the Capt’n Crabby food truck, with a menu that would grow to include an eccentric roster of sandwiches — think a crab cake with sugary cereal and a fried egg on top — as well as Baltimore staples like pit beef.

Served on top of Martin’s Potato Rolls with a side of Utz chips, their dishes soon found an enthusiastic audience within the surprisingly large number of Old Line State transplants who had moved out west.

In 2015, the couple moved with their truck to Virginia Beach, chasing an extended food truck scene and more affordable cost of living. But “we were just dying to come back home,” said Medlar, who met her husband while both were working at Ram’s Head Live, where she was a bartender and he was head chef.

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So this year they added Baltimore to their food truck locations, and now are working on a brick and mortar store on Hampden’s Avenue in the former Waffie dessert shop space. Set to have a soft opening by the end of May with a full launch planned for June’s Honfest, the storefront at 839 W. 36th St. is tiny, but “we’re used to working in small spaces,” Medlar said.

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Medlar wants customers to know that despite the restaurant’s logo, which features a pirate and the company’s birthplace of Denver, she’s a local. “I make Maryland food. I don’t make Colorado-Maryland food. We just brought Maryland food to Colorado because they didn’t have it there.”

Still, the restaurant’s menu of crab cakes feature some unconventional, borderline heretical presentations, including The Hipster, which is topped with homemade bourbon bacon jam, Frosted Flakes cereal and a fried egg. “A lot of older Marylanders are like, ‘Why would you do that to our crab cake?’” she said. But once people try them, they’re usually convinced. “It sounds so weird and it’s so delicious.”

Marylanders “love crab cakes; that’s our burger,” she said. Rather than get hemmed in by the standard accoutrements of, well, basically nothing other than perhaps a thin glob of tartar sauce, Medlar thought, “Why not do more stuff with it?”

From left, marketing director Jessica Howlett and business owners Steve Jones and M.J. Medlar at the 2022 East Coast She-Crab Soup Classic in Virginia Beach, where they received the critic’s choice award. (Handout)

Capt’n Crabby’s unique approach to crab cakes goes beyond just the creative toppings — The Texan, for example, features jalapeño cream cheese, bacon and onions — but to the preparation of the cakes themselves. Theirs are smaller than the behemoths you’ll find at places like Pappas and Koco’s — about 1/3 of a pound — and are fried in a cast iron skillet. That helps them to cook faster, as well as to keep the prices low; everything on the menu is under $20. “We wanted to make crab cakes that were not ridiculously large and overpriced,” she said. “Everyone should be able to afford a crab cake.”

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But the recipe for the signature item is basically “straight off the back of the Old Bay can,” Medlar said. “We do one thing differently, but I’m not going to tell you what it is.”

The restaurant will also sell seasonal specials like Frito Pie, an homage to her husband’s Texas upbringing, as well as smoked brisket during the winter. “We have a really big repertoire,” Medlar said. “It’s hard for me to rein it in.”

Another top seller is the shrimp salad, which Medlar said is inspired by a classic Baltimore restaurant: Kibby’s, which shut down during the pandemic. “Anything and everything you could find on a typical Maryland menu, we’ll have all of it.”

christina.tkacik@thebaltimorebanner.com

Christina Tkacik is the food reporter for The Baltimore Banner. A former Baltimore Sun reporter, she has covered the city's dining scene as well as crime and politics. 

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