Before dining in Arlington this past weekend, I never considered the land across Key Bridge one of multiple fine culinary options. However, Quarterdeck, a happening crab joint that is a 10-minute walk from the Rosslyn Metro station, proved me wrong. The restaurant has been serving up fresh Maryland blue crab and other seafood for over 30 years, and I would highly recommend making a reservation ahead of time.
Upon arriving at Quarterdeck, my friends and I took our place in a very long line of guests waiting for seats. We received a table after about 20 minutes but some of those in line with us left before their parties were called. Others complained that their reservations were not taken at the time that they had requested, either.
Styled like the quarterdeck of a ship with wooden walls, blue gingham tablecloths and nautically themed paintings, the restaurant has a rustic charm. Providing both indoor and outdoor seating, Quarterdeck attracts many regular diners from nearby Rosslyn and Arlington neighborhoods — something that, in my opinion, affected both the environment and the service. The noise level was high, though it was not so loud that my friends and I could not carry on our conversation. In fact, I thought that this noise added to the restaurant’s lively, convivial atmosphere. My party did get the impression, however, that the wait staff was more attentive to their regulars. Though our particular waiter was quite friendly and talkative, a good number of servers seemed to ignore some of their tables in favor of others.
The menu offers mainly shellfish dishes but it does provide other options, such as steak, chicken and pizza, for those not interested in trying something from under the sea. The real reason to come to Quarterdeck, though, is the famous Crab Feast. Cooked to order, these steamed blue crabs are prepared with a semi-salty seasoning. You have to work at breaking open the claws and shell with your mallet, but the meat inside is well worth it. Served with butter, the crab is so warm and soft that it melts in your mouth. There are downsides, however, to having the Crab Feast. As stipulated by the menu, all in your party must order it. In other words, you cannot have a different entree if the rest of your table has the feast. Although it is “all you can eat,” no one may take feast leftovers from the restaurant. The meal is also priced at $37.99 per person, which is especially expensive for a group of college sophomores.
Quarterdeck offers soups, salads and sandwiches at more reasonable values — meaning under $10 — but I would still give it three out of five stars even if I hadn’t found my dish so overpriced. Although our waiter let us order the Crab Feast, he did let us know that generally reservations are needed if you are planning to order it. Because we did not order appetizers — because we noticed how much damage the feast would do to our wallets — we became very anxious and hungry during the crabs’ thirty-minute cooking time. We noticed, however, that other parties who did not order the feast, or crab at all for that matter, waited just as long as we did. With the wait to get in, to have our orders taken, to be served and to receive our checks, our dining experience lasted over two-and-a-half hours. Factoring in our travel time from the Hilltop to Arlington, I do not know if we would have thought this process worthwhile if the Crab Feast had not been so tasty.
Quarterdeck’s biggest draw is that it serves fresh Maryland crabs, which is probably among the reasons why it appeals to northern Virginians like me who do not always want to venture over the border for quality seafood. However, because of its mostly unreasonable prices, I would wait until next year’s parents’ weekend to visit this crab shack.