Local chefs, and visitors, from the best places to eat crab in the country filled the courtyard at Harry’s Bar and Package in Carrabelle to capacity on Saturday, and crowned a new crab cake champion.
Gloria Hebert from Maryland, where Chesapeake summers are synonymous with crabs, was not shy about sharing her authority on the subject and chose her favorite early. It turned out the panel of three judges, Mayor Brenda La Paz, John Reese, and Chuck Spicer, agreed.
Host chef Sean O’Shea, of Marine Street Grill, took the top prize, and first-time entrant Nola Tolbert, of the Crooked River Grill at St. James Bay Golf Course, secured the People’s Choice with a blue and lump crab combination cake stuffed with celery, parsley, sour cream, crackers and a “lot of love.”
O’Shea’s creation was full of secret ingredients, and topped with lemon garlic aioli.
The cook-off has been held annually for three years to raise funds to rebuild the playground pirate ship Carrabella and improve the grounds for public events at Crooked River Lighthouse. The ship was destroyed by fire May 10, 2015 and the plans include adding an outdoor amphitheater featuring dropped seating for bands, designed by Lighthouse president and Carrabelle architect Steven Allen.
“We have dreamed this up as a fundraiser because local people started bragging,” said museum curator Joan Matey.
Defending champion, and cookbook author, Sid McOmie, of Sea Palm Cooking, brought 112 bites made out of four pounds of meat to the tasting table this year and had kind compliments about being upstaged.
“I’m thrilled,” she said. “We had a good turnout, for a great cause.
“I like playing with my food!” McOmie joked. “Carrabelle is a social place; we’ve got incredible chefs here. People like to show off and are adventurous with their palates.”
Her latest book “Nibbles and Bites” was featured in the silent auction, which raised a total of $1,500.
In contests past, crab cakes were prepared on site, “so there was no fudging,” said lighthouse treasurer, Delores Hardin. This year’s seven entries were cooked at home, doubling the quantities, estimated to be enough for 150 people.
Sisters Carol and Susan Caffee, from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, whose mother was born near Carrabelle and grandfather worked the water, remember growing up catching crab and enjoying coastal culture.
“This is our flavor,” both said of the event. “That makes it special.”
Lighthouse keeper Chip Klaus said next steps in the building process for the new amphitheater will focus on landscaping.
“We cleared the undergrowth and will be bringing in dirt to level the parking,” he said. “We are hoping to get the two piers started and set the poles for the mast soon. After that, we will be going at light speed toward creating a timeline for completion in early 2019.”
Hardin said the lighthouse has $20,000 in a savings account for the project, plus the city of Carrabelle put aside $36,000 to contribute.
“It seems like we’ve been collecting money, forever,” said Hardin. “We are so determined to rebuild this ship.”
The community hosts a potluck the second Monday of each month at Lanark Village Boat Cub. The lighthouse is open Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. The next event is its annual Lanternfest on Saturday, Oct. 20.