Floridians know that when it comes to seafood, there are few things better than hovering over a mound of fresh steamed blue crabs.
It's not just the eating. It's the ordeal of cracking, picking and fishing meat out of the shells that lets one know there's probably no morsel of flesh as sweet as a hard-won bit of crab.
Bill Scarpo understands this well. Four years ago, he took a stab at bringing a taste of his native Baltimore to Hernando County by launching an authentic Maryland-style crab house in Spring Hill. Although the idea initially was a hit, high rent and a faltering economy forced him to finally pull up stakes last year.
A few weeks ago, Scarpo decided to refloat his crab shack idea, this time taking up shop in the dormant Florida Boy's Bar-B-Q restaurant building on the west side of Brooksville. Like before, B&P's Billy Blue Crabs revolves around the area's abundance of fresh-caught blue crabs and other Gulf of Mexico delicacies.
For Scarpo, who has spent the better part of 15 years in the seafood restaurant business, knowing one's niche is key.
"I've never been all that interested in upscale dining," Scarpo said. "I'm shooting for more of a Cheers atmosphere — a friendly, inexpensive family place where you can just relax and have a good time and not worry about having to impress someone."
For that reason, diners won't find themselves surrounded by fancy decor. Scarpo knows that crab eaters aren't into linen tablecloths. Rather, a sheet of brown paper and a couple of mallets seem to do just fine for picking through a mess of crabs.
When it comes to preparing blue crabs, Scarpo believes simple is best. His are trucked in live daily from Hernando Beach and are steamed in a Maryland-style broth of beer, vinegar and Old Bay seasoning. The restaurant also offers garlic-prepared crabs. Both sell at market price. Each Monday, there's an all-you-can-eat blue crab special for $23.95.
Scarpo's crab cakes ($7.95 for an appetizer or $14.95 for the dinner) are intensely personal as well. He uses only choice lump meat, and the cakes, which are offered broiled or fried, are prepared according to a recipe handed down by his family.
Sticking to local flavor whenever possible is also key. But while he relies mostly on fresh Gulf of Mexico seafood, Scarpo's menu also includes dishes made from fresh North Atlantic haddock ($7.95 for a sandwich), snow crabs and mussels from up North.
"My aim is to offer a lot of food variety to our customers," Scarpo said. "We'll pretty much cook any kind of seafood people want, however they want it."
There's more on the menu than crab and seafood. Scarpo has revived the restaurant's original barbecue pit for baby back ribs (half rack for $10.95), chicken and pork. And though there are a few pasta dinner entrees, Scarpo and his partner, Pearl Stuckey, are already considering adding more to the menu.
All entrees come with a choice of two sides. The restaurant is in the process of getting a license to serve beer and wine.
"We're just getting going, so we'll definitely be adding some things as we go along," Scarpo said. "But our goal is to be known as the destination for people who love to eat crabs. That's what we do best."
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1435.