I generally avoid giving you the skinny on big-brand, big-budget chain restaurants. But when a company like Joe's Crab Shack stakes claim to a rare strip of waterfront property on River Street and builds a completely new building, I think you deserve a look inside.
Why do I avoid a review for this category of restaurant? Two reasons: These eateries deliver a predictably consistent level of food and/or they fail to live up to the hype.
Congrats to Joe's. They fulfilled both criteria.
Yeah, it's big, offers a beautiful view of passing boat traffic and the beer is pretty cheap. It's also loud, hasn't kept pace with beer trends of the past five years and puts down a plate that is so dissimilar from the picture in the menu that you'll be gob-smacked.
Ms. TJ and I met friends there for dinner and settled into a nice, widow booth that overlooks the covered waterfront dining, vacant this night due to chilly weather. Service was very prompt, very accommodating and efficiently present. These young folks have been trained well.
After plowing through the menu, I settled on a Spicy Citrus Steam Pot. There are several steam pots from which to choose, each themed with a variety of seafood which almost always includes crab legs.
This pot included Dungeness and Snow crab legs, boiled shrimp, sausage, new potatoes, corn on the cob and a buttery Tabasco-enriched broth. It is part of a limited specials menu that showcases food of the Gulf Coast, even though Dungeness is a Pacific Ocean crab.
The pot arrived, lid clamped on tight and when the big reveal came I sat slack-jawed, strapped into my plastic bib upon which our server had penned "Crab Daddy." Um, more like Crabby Daddy.
The crab legs were on the thin side and steamed to rubbery consistency. What meat I could extract was an unfulfilling reward for the effort.
The handful of shrimp was good and nicely flavored, as was the sausage. My new potatoes were left a bit too long on the prep table.
Oh, did I mention that every 20 minutes or so the music comes up to a level that prohibits talking and all the servers boogie around the room for a couple of minutes? Hello, 1980's restaurant theme!
The place will have its appeal. Tourists will love the view, the cheap beer, the access and the fairly reasonable prices. Kids obviously love the place judging by their happy little faces —it's bright, colorful and raucous.
Servers will love their jobs if the throngs all tip because it is staying slammed busy.
Me? I'm probably done. There are better crab legs around town and much better beer selections.
504 E. River St., 232-1830, joescrabshack.com
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