By Staci Wolfson
I don’t remember the first time I dined at Mama’s on the Half Shell, but ever since I moved to Canton, it’s been a go-to whenever I want the best seafood Baltimore has to offer.
It’s an unfailingly good choice no matter what. Out-of-town visitors craving some authentic Maryland seafood? Relaxing atmosphere for catching up with family and friends over good food? Cozy spot for Sunday brunch? Low-key bar in the midst of a nightlife hot spot for happy hour? Mama’s seems to satisfy any requirement.
As indicated by the name, the mainstay of Canton Square has been serving up oysters and clams from the raw bar since its inception in 2003, but the menu transcends seafood and offers many other classic dishes at their best from burgers to club sandwiches to filet mignon.
Despite the seemingly endless choices, however, I have some clear favorites. In a city where seafood reigns supreme, it’s not easy to make a Maryland crab soup that stands out from the rest, but Mama’s has done just that, loading the spicy tomato-based vegetable soup with jumbo lump crabmeat and garnishing it with two meaty crab claws.
Similarly, other bars’ orange crushes pale in comparison to Mama’s concoction of fresh-squeezed orange juice, triple sec, vodka and a splash of Sprite.
I also cannot get enough of the steamed Prince Edward Island mussels. Served with fresh bread for dipping, Mama’s serves the mountain of mussels with your choice of marinara, white wine garlic herb, mustard horseradish, Cajun butter or Old Bay sauces and seasoning. I recommend the savory white wine garlic herb. And if you visit Mama’s for Sunday brunch, the Grand Marnier French toast with its graham cracker encrusted slices is not to be missed.
My last trip to Mama’s wasn’t the best, but I’m willing to chalk it up to an aberration.
Naturally, I started with the Maryland crab soup, but I didn’t think I could get through the usual bowl of mussels, so instead I decided to try the sushi-grade tuna sandwich with roasted red pepper aioli, requesting it rare. The soup didn’t come out, and the tuna was too grilled, rather than seared around the edges.
However, the frazzled but friendly server rectified the problem immediately, bringing me a hot bowl of soup and taking a new order for “the Bubbie,” Mama’s twist on a classic Reuben with roasted turkey, cole slaw, Russian dressing and Swiss cheese on rye.
My second order was much better than my first, deliciously messy and enjoyable, even if a little bit on the greasy side, and my dining buddy enjoyed his fried fresh fish.
Despite the hiccups, Mama’s on the Half Shell remains a favorite for more reasons than I can count. I’ll never run out of new menu items to try, old favorites to devour and pleasurable, relaxing time spent in the familiar, inviting space.
Mama’s on the Half Shell
2901 O’Donnell Street (Canton)
Baltimore, Md. 21224