Published: Tuesday, August 25, 2009, 5:35 PM
By Anthony Venutolo/The Star-Ledger
In a contest to select the state's best crab cake, Red had its competitors green with envy.
The Red Bank restaurant came away with top honors in the third Munchmobile Crab Cake Festival and Shore Chef Cook-Off Sunday at Monmouth Park in Oceanport.
Red's crab cake was selected tops by a panel of judges at the day-long festival, while Mud City Crab Cake Co., with restaurants in Manahawkin and Forked River, won a best of the rest award for its crab cake slider.
"It's definitely a surprise," said Dominic Giuliano, corporate chef for Park/South Hospitality, of which Red is one of five restaurants. "We didn't have the biggest food line all weekend, but we thought we had the best crab cake."
Red's crab cake was baked (10 minutes at 450 degrees), not fried or grilled, as are many crab cakes. Ingredients in the winning crab cake?
"I put together a mixture of fresh lump crab, roasted red peppers, sauteed onions, scallions, chives and seasoning," Giuliano said.
Seasoning consists of Old Bay and "some salt and pepper," while the binder includes "a touch of panko," a "little bit of egg" and a "little mayo," according to Giuliano.
The crab cake, on the menu at Red, was praised by judges for the quality and freshness of ingredients, plus flavor and presentation.
"It was ready to go, ready to eat," said James Conroy, director of prepared foods at Circus Foodtown. "It was a fully executed dish."
Judge Wanda Mann of blackdresstraveler.com put it another way. "It made me happy!" she said.
Red found some crabby competition from McLoone's Restaurants and Bobby Chez. Conroy praised the "really moist, just-cooked" nature of McLoone's crabcake, while Michele McBride, morning host at Brookdale Public Radio 90.5 FM, the Night, said that for consistency, McLoone's was her favorite.
Bobby Chez, meanwhile, earned praise for its no-frills fried crab cake.
"They didn't over-manipulate," Mann explained. "Crispy outside, nice and moist inside," Conroy added.
The judges were near-unanimous in their choice of a favorite, with six of seven picking Red number one on their ballots.
Mud City's crab cake slider, accompanied by fried pickles, was a compact, and immediate, hit among the judges.
"I loved the bacon and avocado in it," said McBride.
Another judge, David Brooks, called it "a nice, flavorful crab."
"If you hadn't been told it was baked, you wouldn't have known," Mann added.
McLoone's Restaurants garnered a special judges' mention for its spicy slaw, which included red cabbage, carrots, sesame oil, honey and rice wine vinegar.
Festival-goers voted on people's choice awards, and the Hunt Club Steak & Seafood Grill at the Grand Summit Hotel in Summit won a people's choice award for the second year in a row, this time for its spicy shrimp. Mud City picked up a second honor, winning a people's choice award for its crab cake. Other participants included Bahrs Landing in Highlands; Bobby Chez Crab Cakes, Marlton; Gaetano's, Red Bank; Jake's Crab Shack, Belmar; Lagniappe, Orange; My Two Sons Savannah-Style Seafood, Manalapan; FunniBonz Barbecue Sauce; and Aramark, the race track's food provider.