This review is for the Baltimore location. Other locations may vary in their selections, prices and quality.
Crab cakes are offered as an entree or as a sandwich. Both sandwich and entree offer the choice between the Phillips Famous Crab Cake and the Jumbo Crab Cake. The Jumbo is the same the Famous Crab Cake, but 2oz larger. Dinner and lunch prices/offerings are the same. Entree also offers a broiled seafood platter, which includes a crab cake along with other seafood items. If you prefer your crab cake broiled, make your request at the time of ordering.
Sandwich served with fries and slaw on a potato roll. Lemon and tartar sauce were on the side. No cocktail served or offered, although I'm sure it could be requested if necessary. Shakers of Phillips' own seafood seasoning (their take on Old Bay) are on the table as well. We suspect the entrees are served with two sides, but the menu does not make mention of this. Best to ask your server if interested.
Menu makes no claims as to the type of crab used in their crab cakes. The famous Phillips recipe that is printed on the back of their seasoning canisters just calls for 'crab meat'. So one can only speculate on the rating of the crab meat used (jumbo lump, lump, backfin, etc.). Our guesstimation (didn't think to ask the server at the time) is backfin to lump. If it was in fact jumbo lump, then the jumbo lumps were broken up. Cake consisted of half lumps and half shreds, with more shell and cartilage bits than is considered acceptable (leading us to believe the crab meat is obtained mechanically).
Overall, the crab meat had little taste. If it did, then it was drowned out by the flavor of the spices used in the filler/binder. I would consider this to be a "saucy" crab cake. The Phillips spicing takes over, even more so than the mustard/Worcestershire/mayo in the binder. The sauce flavor is a bit subdued, almost flat. Doesn't jump out and smack you in the face, but doesn't hang around very long either.
That was if you ate the crab cake on its own. Eat it as a sandwich (which we typically don't, but decided to try it out for fun and sport) with just the roll, lettuce and tomato (no tartar, cocktail or hot sauce), and the bread is all you taste. Some lumps of crab meat will jump out to greet you as you take your next bite, but with the little flavor the crab meat holds, it's not enough to compete with the roll. The seasoning flavor peaks out every now and again, but with nothing short of a whisper to let you know that it's there.
The fries weren't too bad. I dusted the fries with the Phillips seasoning expecting my beloved Old Bay fries to get some competition. Flavor of the spice was mostly celery salt (which is the primary ingredient anyway), and wasn't able to notice much else.
My other point of concern is with charging $4.50 for a pint of Natty Boh. Seriously? I know it's the Inner Harbor and all, and should expect some sort of markup, but that seems a bit steep. Especially seeing as how the Heavy Seas Loose Cannon IPA is only $5.50 a pint.
Have you tried the Phillips Famous Crab Cake? Let us know in the comments!
UPDATE 1: Phillips Harborplace set to close on September 30, 2011. This review will stand for its other locations, however, the Harborplace location will be closed.
UPDATE 2: As it turns out, Phillips Harborplace is simply moving to a new location, over in the old ESPN Zone next to the Hard Rock Cafe. Should the crustaceans in the Aquarium be worried?
UPDATE 3: New location is now open.