Faidley’s Seafood: Nancy Faidley Devine and the Secret to the Perfect Crabcake

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Faidleys-35Faidley’s Seafood is about history, atmosphere, and flavor. Once you’ve experienced it, there’s no question why it is famous, and there’s simply no one who does it better. Faidley’s is a space unto itself within the larger marketplace. It’s a large room with a raw bar counter at its center, large communal standing tables arranged orderly all around. Entering from the street, the fresh fish side is on your left, the cooked side on your right. There’s always a line, but when you finally settle down at a table with your chosen seafood delicacy, you quickly find out what all the fuss is about.

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Nancy Faidley Devine is 3rd generation Faidley royalty. Her grandfather opened Faidley’s in 1886, back when Lexington Market was an outdoor affair, with tents and covered wagons. In the beginning the business sold fresh seafood exclusively. This model was passed down to Nancy’s Uncle, who sold Faidley’s to Nancy’s Mother and Father, who passed it on to her. Back then, husband Bill was in the Navy. When he resigned, he joined Nancy working for her father at the present Faidley’s location.Faidleys-2-copy

Nancy had been working the fresh fish stand for years already. She recalls that back then, fresh fish was a staple for most Americans. Holidays, birthdays, weekends, any occasion seemed fit for fish, and lines stretched onto the street for the fresh local catch of the day. In what was an unwitting innovation, Nancy’s father began preparing a fried fish sandwich for his lunch a few times a week. The unmistakable scent beckoned other customers who convinced him to make them one of their own. Before too long, fried fish had become central to Faidley’s business.

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As the years went by, recipes were refined and perfected. The Faidley’s Crabcake became a Baltimore staple against which crabcakes the world over are judged. The Jumbo Lump Crabcake is the size of a softball, crisp on the outside, and warm through its soft, succulent core. It’s a flavor unique to Maryland crab, a sublime mix of sweet and savory. There’s really nothing like it.

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It’s a flavor that has seen Nancy and Bill flown out to Germany, Holland, England, and Reykjavik, where they prepare authentic Maryland crab feasts for royalty and dignitaries. For a journey like this, each ingredient is carefully packed and transported by air as quickly as possible, to ensure that the product is the same quality that Nancy gives her customers in Baltimore.

Consistency is the name of the game. Nancy sources top of the line ingredients, using local items as long as they are at their peak. When sourcing ingredients elsewhere, every item is American and as fresh as it can possibly be. But this isn’t all that goes into keeping Faidley’s great. At 83 and 79, Bill and Nancy still work long days, staying after hours to scrub, mop, and scour their restaurant. It’s this sense of pride that has made this a true family business for 125 years, and it’s something that Nancy is working to instill in the family’s next generation.Faidleys-11-copy

Faidley’s Seafood has been a pillar at Lexington Market through the good times and the bad. With such a history as this, there’s really too much to mention here: the longtime crabcake cook in her 90’s who has been working here since her “retirement” almost 30 years ago, Billy the witty fish expert on the fresh side trading jokes with regulars, seasonal offerings of muskrat and raccoon, Bill the omnipresent cigar-chewing boss man. It’s a place all its own, and you really have to experience it for yourself. Nancy and Bill remain as dedicated as ever to the good of their customers and their corner of the Baltimore food scene. They’ve built something that will last, and we’re all lucky to be able to taste a small part of it.

Check out Faidley’s vendor page for more dining information.

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