Tavern On The Green Crab Cakes

Tavern On The Green was the gorgeous iconic NYC restaurant located in Central Park.  The ambiance, the people watching, and the food was some of the best the city had to offer.  

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Tavern On The Green crab cakes with lemon wedge, cornichons, and avocado tartar sauce

A classic dish served as an appetizer, on a bun for lunch, and as an entree for dinner, the Tavern On The Green Crab Cakes were served with a creamy Avocado Tartar Sauce that complimented the flavor of the crab so well.  These cakes were tender, flavorful, and full of chunks of crab instead of lots of filler.  In short, they were spectacular.

Entrance of the Tavern On The Green Restaurant in Central Park, NYC
Tavern On The Green Restaurant, Central Park, NYC

The restaurant, as I remember it, closed in 2009.  It reopened in 2014 with a new menu that’s equally delicious, but very different.  I’ve found myself missing my favorite dishes from back in the day.  Luckily, the Tavern On The Green Cookbook offers their old recipes with instructions that make it easy to serve these luscious crab cakes at home.

I make these crab cakes often for family and friends.  I like to serve them as a special occasion meal with a Fried Goat Cheese And Roasted Root Vegetable Salad, Asparagus Risotto, a Savory Carrot Flan, and Crepes Suzette for dessert.  You can’t help but feel festive with a meal like this.


This iconic restaurant was opened in 1934 in a building built in 1870 to house the sheep that grazed in the park. 

It offered upscale American cuisine and a gorgeous setting that became a coveted wedding venue.  The restaurant itself became a celebrity after being featured in movies and television shows like Ghostbusters, Wall Street, Seinfeld, and ‘The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmitt”.  

Tavern On The Green was ‘THE’ place for the beautiful people including actors, writers, and New York society to brunch, lunch, and dine until the restaurant lost its lease in 2009.  

It also became known for hosting the carb-filled dinner the night before the New York marathon and entertaining the race VIPs the next day during the race. 

The full history of Tavern On The Green can be read on its Wiki page.

A skillet with 3 Tavern On The Green crab cakes and wedges of lemon


  • Vegetable oil and butter – to saute the vegetables for the crab cakes and also to brown the crab cakes themselves.
  • Celery, green onion, and a lemon – aromatics for the crab cakes.
  • Heavy cream – don’t use anything else.  This will get simmered with the vegetables for the crab cakes and reduced until thick.  Milk or milk substitutes won’t work.
  • Dijon mustard – I use Maille brand or Grey Poupon.
  • Jarred pimiento – If you aren’t familiar with pimentos, they are skinned, cooked, and sliced or diced cherry peppers.  They aren’t spicy or picked.  Do yourself a favor and buy the diced, not the sliced variety.  It will save you a little bit of time.
  • Egg – use a large egg.
  • Breadcrumbs – store-bought is fine, but make sure you get the plain crumbs.  Italian or seasoned bread crumbs have too many herbs and spices for your delicate, little crab cakes.
  • Salt and pepper
  • Crab meat – use the best quality crab that you can find or afford.  This is the star of the show and you want it to shine.


Types of Crab meat - lump crab and backfin crab
Lump crab meat and Backfin crab meat

This recipe uses canned crabmeat.  There isn’t a lot of filler in the crabcakes, so the flavor of the crab really shines through.  

You can always buy fresh crabs, steam them, and pick out all of the bits of meat…OR you can buy the crab meat in the little plastic canisters that you buy at the seafood counter in your grocery. But what kind should you buy?  

If you notice?  There are several types (or grades) offered.  And they vary in price…greatly.  Which one should we get?

Colossal and jumbo lump crab meat – this is the big, tender, beautiful chunks of crab that you might see in a fancy restaurant’s crab cocktail.  There are only two pieces of this meat in each crab, so it’s expensive to buy a whole container of it.  It has a very delicate, sweet flavor. This isn’t the crab to use for a crab cake.  This is the crab to eat with your fingers with drawn butter.

Lump crabmeat – one step down from the colossal lump is lump crab meat.  It’s less expensive, yet still sweet and delicate.  The meat is large chunks of meat from the body of the crab.  It is a great choice for crab cakes when you aren’t using a lot of binders and fillers, but instead, want to see big chunks of meat that you can spear with your fork.  These crabcakes use 8-ounces of lump crabmeat.

Backfin crabmeat is the 3rd grade of meat.  This is the broken lumps of crab meat that are mixed with larger flakes of white body meat.  It’s less delicate in flavor and has great texture.  It is another great choice for crab cakes – especially if you like a lot of vegetables and binders with your crab cakes.

Special crab meat is made up of smaller flakes of white crab meat from the body.  It is great to use for dips, soups, and salads.  The flavor is still delicate and has great texture, but the pieces are smaller.

Claw crab meat is stronger in flavor and is brownish in color.  This is the meat to use for dishes that have a lot of spice like a red crab chowder, cajun crab stuffing, or dips.  It is also the least expensive of the canned crab meat – but too strong for a delicate crab cake.

Plate of raw Tavern On The Green crab cakes


Of course, you can use a store-bought tartar sauce and your crab cakes would still be off the charts.  But since you’ve gone this far and made the BEST crab cakes, why not just go one step further and achieve nirvana?

Honestly, the food processor does most of the work…and then you stir at the end.  Definitely worth the minimal effort.


  • Mayonnaise – any great tartar sauce starts with great mayo.  I used Hellmann’s.
  • Capers – drained and maybe rinsed if you think they’re too salty
  • Cornichons – these are cute, little pickles that are just a tiny bit sweeter than a kosher or dill pickle
  • Parsley, chives, thyme, and garlic – all for delicious flavor
  • Avocado – you’ll be amazed how much this adds to the sauce!  It makes it creamier, gives it beautiful color and texture
  • Lemon juice – for flavor and to keep the lovely green color of the avocado
  • Salt and pepper


  • Don’t skimp on the crab – get the best that you can find and afford – lump and backfin, preferably.
  • Mix everything for the crab cakes before adding the crab meat.  And then gently fold the crab into the other ingredients.  You want to keep as many lumps of the crab meat as possible.
  • Once you make the cakes, take the time to chill them for 2 hours.  Because the crab cakes have very few binders in them, they are very delicate.  Chilling the cakes before cooking them will help to keep their shape.
  • Using an ice cream scoop will help give you uniformly shaped crab cakes.  You can also use a biscuit cutter or mold for a perfectly round crab cake.
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  • Author: Millie Brinkley
  • Total Time: 50 minutes + 2 hours chilling time
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x


These Tavern On The Green Crab Cakes are exactly what you remember from the iconic NYC restaurant.  Full of crab meat and short on binders, these delicious crab patties are easier than you think and even more impressive than you remember.



For the crab cakes:

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 ribs of celery, finely minced
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced green onion, white part only
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 1 ½ tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 ½ tablespoons finely minced, well-drained pimiento
  • 1 ¼ cups, plus 3 tablespoons fine, dry, plain breadcrumbs
  • 1 teaspoon finely minced lemon zest
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 pound lump or backfin crabmeat, gently squeezed to remove excess moisture
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Avocado tartar sauce, for serving

For the Avocado Tartar Sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained
  • 4 small cornichons, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 cup mayonnaise (I used Helmann’s)
  • 1 large garlic clove, very finely minced
  • 1 small, ripe Hass avocado, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon white pepper


In a saute pan over low heat, melt the butter. 

Add the celery and onion.  Stir and sweat the vegetables until tender – about 10 minutes.  Don’t let the vegetables brown.  If they begin to brown, add a tablespoon of water to the pan.

Pour in the cream and increase the heat to medium.

Simmer, stirring often for 5 minutes or until the cream is reduced and very thick.  

Remove the pan from the heat and set it aside to cool.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the cream mixture, mustard, pimento, 3 tablespoons of bread crumbs, lemon zest, salt, white pepper, and egg.

Add the crab meat and toss gently to evenly mix.  Don’t break up the chunks of crab.

Divide the mixture into 4 equal parts.

In a shallow dish, add the remaining 1 ¼ cups bread crumbs.  Spread into an even layer.

With your hands, make 2 equal patties from each quarter of the crab mixture.

The crab mixture will be moist and loose.

Place the crab patty into the breadcrumbs and scoop the bread crumbs around and on top of the crab patty.

Use a spatula to gently turn the patty over and pat breadcrumbs over the other side.

Carefully lift the breaded crab patty to a small baking sheet that has been lined with foil or parchment paper.

Repeat with the remaining crab mixture.  You should have 8 small patties.

Cover the baking sheet with plastic wrap and chill for at least one hour and preferably 2 hours.

Meanwhile make the tartar sauce.

In a food processor, combine the capers, cornichons, parsley, chives, and thyme.

Pulse to chop, but not puree the ingredients.

Add the mayonnaise and garlic and pulse until just combined.

Spoon the mixture into a small mixing bowl.

Fold in the avocado, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

Taste and adjust the seasonings.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour before serving.

To cook the crab cakes:

In a large skillet over medium-low heat, melt the butter and vegetable oil together.

Gently slide the crab cakes into the pan.

Cook for 10 minutes until the crab cake is golden on the bottom and feels a little more firm.

Carefully use a spatula to turn the crab cake and brown the other side for 8-10 minutes until golden.

Remove the crab cakes and place 2 on each dinner plate.

Top with 1 teaspoon of tartar sauce on each crab cake and serve the remaining sauce on the side.

Serve hot.

  • Prep Time: 30 + 2 hours chilling time
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Category: Main Dish - Seafood
  • Method: Pan fry
  • Cuisine: American

Keywords: Tavern On The Green Crab Cakes, crab cakes, copycat recipes, seafood, crab, dinner party, New York food

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