Obrycki's is a Baltimore institution on Pratt Street, just East of Broadway. Everyone comes to Obrycki's at some point. You go to any guidebook on Baltimore and they'll mention that Obrycki's has been serving crab to the Baltimore faithful since 1944.
That's a long time, and like many long-time restaurants, the atmosphere is a little dated. We went one afternoon for lunch and I felt like I was stepping off the street and into a wood-paneled set from an episode of Quincy. No, we didn't see Jack Klugman, but it felt like we could have. I doubt the decor has been updated since the 70's, and that's OK for a place with the history of Obrycki's. It's just shocking to see surviving decor from the pre-fern bar, pre-TGI Fridays shot-and-a-beer era.
Seafood is the specialty at Obrycki's They have other dishes, but the action here is in the ocean. We decided to start with clams. I pictured a mound of clams, and was sorely disappointed. For $6.95, we got six clams. Six. The preparation was simple - steamed with butter and lemon. They were very good, but since when are little neck steamers as dear as oysters? It's not exactly fair to compare retail prices to restaurant prices, but two days prior, I'd purchased 50 identical clams for $16.95 at Frank's Seafood. That's 33 cents a clam, instead of $1.16. I wouldn't normally object if they'd done something special to the clams to merit the price, but they were simply steamed open and served with butter and lemon. Note to management - give us a dozen next time and I won't feel so shorted.
I will admit I'm at a disadvantage in reviewing Obrycki's because their most popular and famous dish is anathema to me - crabs. Fortunately, my brother-in-law is not allergic to crabs and he ordered the softshell crabs for lunch and I ordered the scallops with a double helping of the vegetable of the day instead of potatoes.
At the tables around us, patrons smacked away at large piles of small hard shell crabs with wooden mallets. Conversation was kept to a minimum as the mallet-wielding diners alternated smacking the crabs and stuffing their face with the meager meat in each animal. They all seemed very pleased with their overgrown sea-bug meat.
When our entrees arrived, I was shocked at the mound of bright green broccoli that accompanied my scallops. the scallops themselves were fat, perfectly cooked, and soaked in butter with shallots and garlic. This is an old-fashioned way to enjoy scallops, and though my heart jumped with butter-shock at every bite, I enjoyed the dish greatly.
My brother-in-law's softshell crab was a surprise. I've only made softshell crabs once, but I was instructed that proper preparation involves cutting off not only the gills and apron of the crab, but also its beady little eyes and face. At Obrycki's the front of the crab was untouched, and Greg was actually pleased to find an eyeball still attached (which he promptly popped in his mouth). He works in food-service and it was refreshing to him to see food that was obviously prepared fresh and locally rather than prepped in a factory and shipped frozen. He also seemed to be very pleased with his crab.
Service was friendly and acceptable, but not stellar. Our bread basket only came, for instance, as we were finishing our meal. The bread was too late to take the edge off our hunger before our lunch entrees, but the fresh warm rolls were just in time to soak up all the butter, shallots, and garlic left in the scallop pan. Breadless to start, we were also left too long without drinks in the middle of the meal.
The final bill was substantial - about $40/person without alcohol. Obrycki's charges a premium for its history that is perhaps appropriate to its status among Baltimore's historical restaurants, but not one I'd be willing to pay too frequently.
Overall, I would return to Obrycki's, but would advise my crustacean-eating friends to get the hard shell crabs and whack away with the provided mallet. I also wouldn't plan on doing much substantial walking or even moving around for a couple of hours after a meal there.
1727 E. Pratt St.
Baltimore, MD 21231
+1 410 732 6399
Mon - Thurs: 11:30 am. to 10:00 pm.
Fri & Sat: 11:30 am. to 11:00 pm.
Sun: 11:30 am. to 9:30 pm.