"Give me two of the largest you've got," said Frank Haeg as he leaned into the crab counter at Oliver's Market on Thursday.
The 78-year-old Santa Rosa man was one of hundreds of customers around Sonoma County who were finally getting a long-awaited taste of locally caught Dungeness crab.
The commercial fishing season began Monday after a two-week delay as fishermen and processors sat in a stalemate over the price. The parties settled at $2.25 a pound after some boats from Oregon set out and dropped their pots, and the race to catch the crustaceans was on. Crab began showing up at some local supermarkets on Wednesday.
"I couldn't wait. I was getting crabby," Haeg said. "I was very disappointed that the season was delayed. We didn't have any for Thanksgiving, because it wasn't here."
Haeg said he planned to soak the crabs in sauvignon blanc for a day, to allow the flavor of the wine to absorb into the meat.
Oliver's was selling cooked crab for $4.99 on Thursday and planned to drop the price to $3.99 on Friday, said Todd Davis, meat and seafood coordinator. That's when he anticipates big crowds.
"It's like blood in the water," Davis said. "It's a frenzy."
At G&G Supermarket, the frenzy began on Wednesday, when the store offered the delicacy for $2.99 a pound and sold out its first shipment in a record 45 minutes. Waiting for crabs to arrive, store officials used Facebook to ask its customers to look for the incoming delivery truck, updated them on expected delivery times, and alerted them when the stores were sold out.
"Trying to spot the Tides Wharf delivery truck is like a &‘Where's Waldo' game for us, now with Facebook our customers know better when we are going to get the crab delivery than we do," CEO Teejay Lowe said in a statement.
Cooked crabs sold for $3.99 a pound at G&G on Thursday.
Whole Foods began selling cooked Dungeness crab in its Santa Rosa stores for $6.99 a pound Thursday morning.
The lack of crab at Thanksgiving this year saddened customers and fish mongers alike. Davis made do with tiger prawns for his own holiday meal, and he tried to steer his crab-loving customers to frozen Alaskan King Crab for Thanksgiving.
"When you're from this area and you do Dungeness crab, that doesn't cut it," Davis said.
Ellen O'Neel, a retired draftsman from Santa Rosa, said she wished fishermen and wholesalers had split the difference on their price goals sooner, so they could make money and hungry crab lovers could eat.
"It was too bad. But I'm very glad it's here," O'Neel said.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: December 20, 2011
Ellen O'Neel of Santa Rosa is a retired draftsman. Her occupation was misstated in a story posted on December 1, 2011 about crab.</i>