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A guide to Petaluma crab feeds

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The Sonoma County crab feed season is upon us! And although the news is filled with headline-grabbing warnings about crab season delays, do not despair. Our coast is split up into several different crab fishing areas and so although there have been delays farther north, due to under-developed crabs, there are still plenty of fresh crustaceans bellying up to the docks out in Bodega Bay.

During a recent stay at Dillon Beach, we scooted up the road to pick up fresh crab for our own do-it-ourselves crab feed. Wanting a bit of a snack before heading home with our crab, we made a beeline for Spud Point Crab Company, which has the best chowder on Bodega Bay. Trust me, all the seafood shops on the bay make great chowder, but there is something special about Spud Point’s. Unfortunately, everyone else seems to have figured this out too, and being that it was a Saturday, the line was far to long for us to wait around so we headed back to Fishetarian, which is one of several other spots on the bay that offer fresh seafood for dining in, as well as fresh cracked crab for take-out.

While waiting for our crab to be processed, we enjoyed some clam chowder, crab cakes, a tri-tip sandwich, a couple of fish tacos, and a pint or two of fresh local beer. The price for crab is always consistent around the bay so my suggestion is that you simply pick the shop that is most convenient for you. I highly recommend paying the extra dollar per pound to have them crack and clean the crab for you. If you are a veteran crab eater, you surely know how to do it yourself, but I will always pay the extra couple bucks to have the hard work done in advance of sitting down at the table.

Back at the beach house, we dined in front of a panoramic window, with views extending from Hog Island to the south, all the way up to the Bodega Headlands. One of our guests noticed a boat slowly roaming the waters in front of Dillon Beach and sure enough, a closer look through the binoculars revealed that it was a crabbing boat. It was almost like watching a live version of the Deadliest Catch, only on a smaller scale. The boat would move slowly towards the next float, at which point one of the hands would toss a hook, pull the float onboard and run the line through a mechanical wheel. Due to the shallow waters, mere moments later, the attached crab pot would clear the surface, filled with a healthy catch of crabs. Once emptied, the pot went over the side and the boat meandered towards the next float. There was something really special about getting to watch the actual process that in the end puts the very crab we were eating on our table.

Although I highly recommend holding at least one crab dinner yourself each year, I understand that many would rather leave the serving and clean-up to others. Thankfully, Petaluma is never shy of Crab Feed Fundraisers and although the first couple already occurred in December, the majority are set for January and February.

For those attending their first crab feed, here are a few simple rules. First off, unlike other parts of the Bay Area, our feeds are always “all-you-can-eat.” No one or two crab limits here, so bring your appetite.

As far as I’m concerned, “all-you-can-eat” is a challenge, which means proper preparation is in order. To best prepare, have a hearty breakfast, followed by a light lunch, all the while drinking plenty of water. This will not only offer you greater capacity to consume crab, but the water will help offset the salt you will be consuming. Also, be wary of the per-crab appetizers, or risk finding yourself full of salad, bread, and pasta, before the crab has even reached the table.

Depending on the crab feed, they may or may not supply accoutrements, so we always bring our own, including crackers, butter-melters, and crab bibs, all of which can be purchased from Fishman Supply here in Petaluma, although given the crab feed rush, you will want to order ahead. We also bring our own lemons and Petaluma Creamery Butter. Although many feeds welcome guests to bring their own booze, check first. Many feeds will sell bags of crab for take-home too, but ‘no’, you are not allowed to bring your own take-home bags.

Additionally, keep in mind that these feeds are fundraisers. So buy a few extra raffles tickets, and maybe a drink or two for your tablemates. It all goes to a good local cause. And as fundraisers, these events are run by volunteers, so be patient. Whether it is their website, return phone calls, or table service that is a bit slow, please keep in mind that they are doing their best and that this is all for good causes.

Finally, take a special look at the sponsor list for any of the feeds you attend. Those businesses deserve our daily support, especially with the ill effect that the fires have had on our local economy. Support those that support our community. These crab feeds are one of the many things that make Petaluma such a wonderfully unique place to live and without the support of local sponsors, many of these events would not happen and many of the non-profit organizations that run them would not be able to do what they do for our community.

Because crab feed info can sometimes be a bit hard to find, use last year’s dates, locations, and contact info as your guide. These events are run by volunteers and are often handed off from year to year to new people. If you cannot find the feed you are looking for, simply ask around. Post your request to the Petaluma Foodies page on Facebook, and you are sure to get the info you are looking for.

Word to the wise is that you pick up your tickets early because it is not unusual for these feeds to sell out.

Chronologically, Petaluma’s 2018 Dungeness Crab Feeds are as follows:

1) Nicasio Parlor #183 (Hermann Sons Hall) – Friday, January 5, 2018 - $50 in advance/$55 at the door. Cocktails start at 6 P.M. with dinner served at 7 P.M., including cracked crab, pasta, salad, rolls, and a cup of Cajun Gumbo! Reservation are required; the deadline is January 3. Call Larry Schork (707) 486-6897, Dan Foppe (707) 763-1736, Kristofer Nelson (707) 332-2376, or Harold Matzen (707) 762-8007.

2) Senhor Santo Cristo Society’s Portuguese Crab Feed

Unique to this Petaluma crab feed is a choice of two preparations, the standard chilled crab, as well warm seasoned crab, which is a crowd favorite and should be experienced at least once. The ticket price also includes wine and punch on the tables and after-dinner dancing. Petaluma Holy Ghost/Portuguese Hall, Sat, Jan 13, 707-304-2819 or 510-604-7746.

3) Petaluma 7-11 Lion’s Club

This feed is one of Petaluma’s oldest and best attended, with all proceeds go to various local charities, and along with great food, this particular feed has an enormous amount of raffle items. No host bar at 5 P.M. followed by dinner at 6 P.M. No carry-in alcohol or coolers. Petaluma Vets Hall, Sat, Jan 20, $50, 711lions@gmail.com.

4) Pacific Empire Chorus

In just their 6th year, the PEC has built quite a reputation for their crab feed because along with great food, it also included a live a cappella show. For a real treat, purchase a Captains Table for 8 ($560), and you and your crew will be placed front and center of the stage, plus will receive full-service linens, china, and glasses. Everyone will enjoy fresh pasta from the Pasta King, salad, French bread, and gourmet home-made desserts. As always, there will be a vast array of silent auction items to bid on. Petaluma Vets Hall, Sat, Jan 27 –$50 advance, $60 at the door, $20 for children 10 and under with an adult) – (www.pacificempire.org.)

5) Boys & Girls Club

This one is for guests 21 and over and with great auction items, desserts, and after-dinner dancing, usually sells out in advance. Although listed as a no-host bar, I believe in the past that drinks were included so you may want to double check on that. Lucchesi Park Clubhouse, Sat, Jan 27, $95, www.bgccsc.org/petaluma-crab, 528-7977, or contact Harley Rose at events@bgccsc.org.

6) Duhnam School

The ticket price includes plentiful side dishes, dessert, and adult beverages. There will also be ample silent and live auction items. All proceeds directly benefit all of the students at Dunham School and Dunham Charter School. The Dunham School PTO provides enrichment programs, including Drama, Gardening, Music, and Art to all of their students, TK/Kindergarten through 6th grade. Hermann Sons Hall, Sat, Jan 27, $55, www.dunhamsd.org.

7) Rancho Adobe Firefighters’ Association

Tickets have been on sale since December 6, so grab yours soon if you want to attend this one. Penngrove Community Club House, Sat, Jan 27, $60, Rancho Adobe Fire District on Facebook.

8) PHS Athletic Boosters Club

Live and silent auctions, crab, and plenty of music and dancing, from 6 – 11 P.M. helps explain why PHS’s crab feed sells out each year. Special reserved tables for eight people, including two bottles of wine, are available for $650. PHS coaches and staff and one guest receive discounted tickets - $40. This one is a 21 and over event. Herzog Hall, Sat, Feb 3, $70, abutts7@yahoo.com for tickets.

9) Sons and Daughters of Italy

Tickets are only available in advance for this feed, so plan ahead. Along with crab, pasta, sides, and wine on the table, there will also be a no-host bar for additional libations. And this one has one of my favorite types of raffles – the 50/50. For the uninitiated, a 50/50 raffle is one in which half the proceeds are paid back out as prizes, while the other 50% of the proceeds go directly to the fundraiser.

Lucchesi Center, Sat, Feb 3, $50, erng1624@aol.com for tickets.

10) Petaluma Woman’s Club

This is still my favorite crab feed of them all, not only because it was my first, but also because it helps support a wonderful local club. Their crab is always tasty, and beer, wine, and soda are always included with dinner, as is their infamous “Better Than Sex” cake. In fact, I like the club so much, that whenever they ask, I am more than happy to “cry” the auctions and raffles at their various fundraisers. Hopefully, I will be back at it again this year. Fri, Feb 9, $50, www.petalumawomansclub.com.

11) Penngrove Social Firemen

The Penngrove Social Firemen always put on great feasts, including their corned beef and cabbage lunch/dinner. This year’s crab feed will be on Sat, Feb 10, 2018. Check www.penngrovesocialfiremen.org and/or at JavaAmore Café – 10101 Main St, Penngrove at (707) 794-1516 for tickets.

12) Petaluma Holy Ghost Society

PHGS always leads off the crab feed season with an early December feed, but always follows that up with another feed mid-February for those of us that were too distracted by the holidays to start thinking about attending crab feeds that early. This is a different group than the Senhor Santo Cristo Society, but is held in the same location and also includes wine and punch on the tables, and has dancing after dinner.

This year’s event will have two seatings, one at 4 P.M. and one at 7 P.M. The no-host bar opens at 3:30 P.M. Dinners include salad, garlic bread, pasta, and crab. Music and dancing starts at 8:30 P.M. and runs through midnight.

The PSGC’s feeds are their main fundraisers of the year with proceeds going to help maintain and restore this 100+ year old historic hall. Many of the club’s current members can trace their heritage back to Petaluma’s founding families, making this a very special venue and a great fundraiser to attend. Petaluma Holy Ghost/Portuguese Hall, Sat, Feb 17, $50, 762-4995.

13) Rotary Club of Petaluma

This is the oldest of the bunch, having been held for over 40 years now, and aptly finishes out the crab feed season each year. I also like this one because they finish out the meal with ice cream, which is a nice way to end the evening.

This feed always has very popular auctions items, with this year’s proceeds going to the Miracle League Baseball Field, which is the specially designed and built baseball field at Lucchesi Park for children with physical and mental disabilities. This year’s items include a private horse show and dinner for 8 at a local ranch, conducted by local trainer and Canadian National Western riding champion Jessie Saldana. McEvoy Ranch’s chef will prepare the dinner. Another auction item is a pair of tickets to a San Francisco Giants game, complete with a pass to go on the field during practice. Two more big-ticket auction items are currently in the works. Petaluma Vets Hall, Fri, Feb 23, $65, www.petalumarotary.org.