1200 Fort Myer Drive
Arlington, VA 22209
CUISINE Seafood, Beer Joints, American
PRICE $$$ ($21-$30)
HOURS Open for lunch and dinner daily.
NVM AWARDS None
NEARBY METRO None
By Warren Rojas
Arlington has its share of booming dance clubs, raucous beer halls and even late-night wine bars. Still, it’s tough to find a more rollicking bunch than the crab-pickin’, beer-drinking masses that seem to invade the Quarterdeck on a nightly basis.
First-time guests might think owner Lou Gatti’s rickety, inland hideaway looks somewhat lost amidst the sea of luxury apartments and refurbished condos that have flooded the Rosslyn housing market in recent years. But established patrons know that while the scenery may change, the Quarterdeck always remains.
The two-story shack boasts porthole-style windows, a well-lived-in bar, a communal dining area and inviting outdoor patio (offering both covered and open-air seating) on the main level. Restrooms, a pair of coin-operated pool tables and some dart boards are found down below.
Open tables are a prized commodity at this cherished community hangout, as evidenced by the fact that you are just as likely to encounter crowds on a random Tuesday as you are during the near-constant weekend rush. Chairs remain full from open to close thanks to a steady stream of birthday revelers (“Three cheers for Jen!”), unwinding co-workers, extended families and even suburban sophisticates—they tend to arrive in meticulously pressed shirts and ties, then retire from the tables with full bellies and Old Bay-stained elbows—who’ve come to enjoy each other’s company as much as the well-seasoned crustaceans.
Veteran servers know their customers and their product very well, and can quote the variety and quantity of crabs they’ve got on hand, down to the last dozen. When an overly ambitious caller attempts to monopolize their crab supply for the night, one server counseled, “No one can sit down and eat three dozen donuts. Crabs are about the same way.” The server went on to explain that staff typically asks patrons how many crabs they expect to eat when they call to make a reservation, and the kitchen then sets apart at least that many of the largest animals available to ensure maximum satisfaction.
That’s one way to keep folks coming back. Another is to serve great crabs.
During one early season visit, crew members were busy offloading a fresh shipment of crabs trucked in straight from North Carolina. Subsequent visits, I was merely told that the crabs were all “local.”
This season, dozens are running about $44 for mediums, $54 for larges, $64 for extra-larges and $76 for jumbos, while the all-you-eat option is $34.95 per person. The remainder of the menu bounces from traditional seafood (red crab soup, crab cakes) to wide-reaching daily specials (Dungeness crab, 16-ounce porterhouse, “fiesta” catfish platter).
An order of stuffed shrimp produces cheddar cheese- and pepper-filled poppers flanked by a cooling salsa. Grilled shrimp taste like they’ve seen some fire and are accompanied by melted butter—which comes in handy around crab time, since they charge extra for drawn butter.
Curiously enough, one batch of supposedly spiced shrimp arrived: 1) cold (not raw, but definitely somewhere south of lukewarm), and 2) devoid of any Old Bay.
All crabs are cooked-to-order, so there’s about a 20 to 30 minute lag between ordering and eating that’s well worth the wait. On average, crabs emerge caked with just the right amount of Old Bay and bear ample clumps of hot, sweet flesh to sate even the most ravenous dining companions. There were no missing claws and no puny specimens mixed in to complete the count—you definitely get what you pay for.
Some of my guests found the happy-hour bar specials ($1.50 off select beers, from 4 to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday) to be the perfect complement to our dining regimen.
I preferred to consume my sugars in pie form, gobbling up homemade blueberry cobbler folding jammy filling and tart blueberry chunks into a spice-dusted shell (summer, by the slice).