Once a Baltimorean, always a Baltimorean.
That was my thought when I learned that Oprah Winfrey, aka the Queen of All Media, still orders her favorite Baltimore-made crab cakes, even though it’s been decades since the former WJZ-TV anchor left Charm City.
Winfrey might be interested in updates from the maker of her favorite crab cake. Pappas Seafood Co., which turned 50 this year, is adding a new location in Harford County as well as a central distribution hub in Baltimore County to make its signature item.
Justin Windle, “chief crab cake officer” for the company, will be a partner at the Bel Air location, a fourth restaurant for the company. Windle’s father-in-law, Mark Pappas, founded the business in 1972, adapting a crab cake recipe he’d learned from a chef in Delaware.
The decision to expand in Harford County came after years of hearing from customers who were driving to the restaurant’s locations in Parkville and Cockeysville from Bel Air and Fallston. After spending about four years searching for the right spot, the owners landed on a former Applebee’s at 1225 Churchville Road.
Windle hopes to open the restaurant by January following a massive renovation scheduled to start this month.
The new location will have about 175 seats, making it smaller than both the Cockeysville and Parkville branches. It will also have a heated outdoor patio. In addition, the restaurant will offer catering to nearby offices, schools and the local hospital, as well as a dedicated entrance for carryout orders, an innovation that the company adopted during the pandemic, when takeout became central to its business model.
“COVID taught us to get our act together and to think differently about our carryout and to rethink how we organize it,” Windle said.
While the original Pappas is more formal, the new restaurant will be modeled after the company’s more casual sports bar in its Cockeysville location. “There are no tablecloths. That’s what we’re looking to emulate here in Bel Air.”
Windle says he hopes the new restaurant will attract guests from as far as Aberdeen and even Pennsylvania.
Plans for the new restaurant come as Pappas is preparing to launch a central distribution facility in Baltimore County that will ship crab cakes to customers and to the company’s restaurants. Located in Perry Hall, the space is a former ABC Rental Center facility that was dormant for years. “We just had our parish priest come over to do a blessing,” Windle said.
Windle thinks the new location will be “the heart” of the company’s growth for the foreseeable future, opening the door to franchising and allowing for greater consistency between the restaurants. “We’ll all be using the same place to get our crab cake, which is our signature item,” Windle said.
Like many local restaurants known for their crab cakes, Pappas relies on a mix of blue crab from the Gulf of Mexico and Venezuela as well as Indonesian crab meat. Both became scarce last summer thanks to supply chain issues.
“That drove the crab prices way up,” Windle said. But now, pasteurized crab meat is more available, leading prices to calm down. “Unfortunately, a lot of things went up in price,” said Windle, including labor costs.
I had to ask: How did Winfrey become the restaurant’s most famous customer?
Windle said that it was actually Winfrey’s longtime partner, Stedman Graham, who introduced her to the crab cake years ago. “She did spend so much time in Baltimore,” Windle said of Winfrey. “She knows what a good crab cake is supposed to be like.” Through her personal chef, Winfrey — who could not be reached for comment — still orders them to her home in California, Windle said, keeping them on hand whenever a crab cake craving strikes.
What about the doughnuts?
The city’s recent boil water advisory — issued days after E. coli was discovered at three addresses in Sandtown-Winchester — covered about 1,500 homes and businesses, including some in South Baltimore and Baltimore County.
Diablo Doughnuts in Baltimore’s Brooklyn neighborhood lies less than a block outside the boil water advisory area. But owner Michael “Ros” Roslan said that he was planning to buy jugs of water to make dough for the company’s signature doughnuts, which are sold Thursday through Sunday at the 3432 South Hanover St. storefront. “I’d rather be safe than sorry,” Roslan said. “I don’t want to take a chance.”
For Roslan, the addition of bottled water to his supply list comes at a time when he’s already facing major price hikes on ingredients. “Everything’s gone up 100% — over 100%,” said Roslan, noting that the cost of a 50-pound bag of flour had soared from $31 to $70.
“I’m still paying a water bill,” Roslan said. “Nothing’s going to offset that price. It’s a loss.”
In happier news, Diablo Doughnuts’ food truck is soon to hit the road, selling their signature items that include savory varieties such as tomato and sweet corn, mostly at private events such as weddings and showers.
“We truly have a great following. Our die-hards keep us alive right now.”