Short List: Crab cakes

Don’t be fooled by the name; a crab cake isn’t just a crab cake. Front and center, yes, is a cake made of crab, and only the real thing need apply. But a crab cake is a Gestalt experience, i.e. the sum is greater than the parts. A great cake can command an audience sitting naked on the plate, not too fishy, not too flashy, not over-breaded, fried golden and never greasy. But just because it can stand alone doesn’t mean it should, as the slaw and the sauce can make or break the dish.

Big Sky Café
47 S. Old Orchard Ave., Webster Groves, 314.962.5757

Two plump medallions were pan-fried so artfully that heads turned when we sank our forks in. The crispy outer layer is echoed by bits of crunchy celery on the inside, and yet each mouthful nearly dissolves on the tongue. That’s because sour cream, mayo and Dijon are mixed into the lumps of crab, making every bite full and creamy. Served simply on a bed of mixed greens, the richness of the meat is balanced by the sharp greens. A thick dollop of shallot-dill tartar sauce elevates the presentation and introduces an herby note on the finish.

Schlafly Tap Room
2100 Locust St., St. Louis, 314.241.2337

Two sizable griddle cakes, browned on top and bottom with tender blue crab spilling out the sides – this dish requires nothing else. The lump meat is accented with bits of bright red pepper and celery, making the cakes crunchy inside and out. A pool of remoulade sauce lends tang and brightness to the moist cakes and complements the lightly breaded crab. The only accompaniment is a wedge of fresh lemon that is meant to be used – one good squeeze bridges all the flavors.

Molly’s in Soulard
816 Geyer Ave., St. Louis, 314.241.6200

Tangy, spicy, slightly sweet and weighing in at a quarter-pound, this crab cake isn’t for the faint of heart. The imposing cake combines lump crab, flecks of red and green peppers, and just enough jalapeño to make you pay attention. Lightly fried outside and tender pink on the inside, it’s plated on an equally generous bed of Creole apple-cabbage slaw that carries a mysterious hint of cinnamon. An herb-filled ravigote cream sauce stripes the cake and balances the jalapeño’s gentle warmth. It’s all kicked up a notch by the sauce’s potent mustard and horseradish notes.