By Zach Sparks
How many 3-ounce cups of crab soup does it take to help send six students to college and to provide more than 1,700 third-graders with dictionaries? The answer: a whole lot.
The Lake Shore-Severna Park Rotary Club is inviting the public to its annual crab soup cook-off, where they can taste the area’s best cream of crab and Maryland crab soups, vote for their favorites, and support Pasadena and Severna Park’s youth.
This year’s event is set for Sunday, March 24, from 1:00pm to 4:00pm at Kurtz’s Beach, located at 2070 Kurtz Avenue in Pasadena. Confirmed restaurants are Bahama Mike's, the Greene Turtle, Kim Ward of Angel’s Food Market, Bella Napoli Italian Restaurant, and Founders Tavern and Grille.
Ten years ago, Rotarian Larry Sanders coined the idea for a Rotary crab soup cook-off as a replacement for the club’s pancake breakfast, which yielded minimal profits. “You can’t do much with $300,” he said.
The event’s current chair, John Clark, added, “Nobody was trying to do a soup competition that time of year. It was more in the fall when crabs were plentiful.”
What started out as an event with about 135 attendees and a few thousand dollars now draws crowds that exceed 400 people and collects $8,000 or more annually. Clark has an even more ambitious goal this year: $14,000. That amount would fund the scholarships and dictionary project, but the Rotary’s previous record from any Lake Shore-Severna Park Rotary crab soup cook-off is $10,000 and the highest attendance was 586 in 2013.
“Our focus went from being just scholarships to also being dictionaries,” said Clark, who counted 20 elementary schools throughout Pasadena, Severna Park and Arnold that benefit from the program. “The dictionaries are actually gazetteers because they have geography information in them.”
With the now 71-year-old Lake Shore Rotary Club merging with the Severna Park affiliate in 2014, annual dictionary costs increased from about $2,000 to $5,200, Clark said.
This year’s event will have lower ticket prices and a lower registration fee for participating restaurants, yet Clark hopes to make up the difference with corporate sponsor donations and with added enthusiasm for the event, which is even more family friendly this year.
“We’re going to have face painting, balloons, photography with the Rotary sign in the back, nautical clothing, and painted crab shells,” Clark said. “So it’s not just tasting soup.”
But, of course, the appeal for many people is the soup, and the event has plenty of it. The recipes are always interesting and varied.
“Some people put pork in the Maryland crab and some people will keep it to vegetables,” Clark said. “I think the spicier ones are some of the best. For the cream of crab, some people are OK with that clam chowder consistency while others want the thickness. It just depends on your preference.”
Angel's Food Market General Manager Kim Ward has thrown “everything but the kitchen sink” in her award-winning soup, which features beef, bacon, beer and barley among other vegetables and seasonings. One year, Founders Tavern and Grille mixed broccoli into its Maryland crab soup.
Meanwhile, repeat winner Bella Napoli sticks to a straightforward yet succulent recipe that goes heavy on cream and crab meat — with small doses of Old Bay, celery, onions and Sherry — without much use of flour, butter or other thickening agents.
Judges selected Mutiny Pirate Bar & Island Grille for best cream of crab soup and Sam & Maggie’s Dockside Grill for best Maryland Soup last year. Founders Tavern & Grille earned people’s choice for Maryland crab and Giuseppe’s Italian Restaurant took people’s choice for best cream of crab. Other past winners include Gourmet Pizza and Subs, Two Rivers Steak & Fish House, Honey Bee Diner, Fifer's Seafood, Garry's Grill and The Pit Stop Pub.
Three yet-to-be-determined judges will do a blind taste test to determine the winners. Business owners, politicians, chefs, retired fire chiefs and culinary teachers have all served as judges over the years.
“I’ve tried hard to get people of note and I try to have someone different every year,” Clark said. “They are not [affiliated] with us in any way other than I met them through business, or the community or through our other connections.”
Kurtz’s Beach will have other food on hand for kids, and an open bar will service anyone 21 and over.
Tickets are $10 for adults and free for children 5 and under. Advanced adult tickets can be purchased at Sanders Diamond Jewelers, located at 31 Magothy Beach Road in Pasadena. To learn more about the event or corporate sponsorships, call Clark at 410-320-3145.
“It’s a win-win,” Clark said. “We’re going to raise money for scholarships and dictionaries and we’re also going to promote the restaurants. Outside of helping [high school] seniors, I cannot express a greater joy than handing dictionaries to third-graders.”