Sure, it falls under the “Food & Restaurants” category – but along with its menu, The Crab Shack may be just as known for its casual, laid-back atmosphere as it rests off the water of Chimney Creek on Tybee Island.
“Jack and Belinda (Flanigan) bought this sprawling property back in the 80s, when it was known as Chimney Creek Fishing Camp,” explained Stephanie Hamilton, who handles the marketing for The Crab Shack. They’d run the fishing charters and would cook the fresh catches at the end of each day – most times featuring fat blue crabs and shrimp.
Eventually as more people started showing up, tables were brought in, a liquor license was obtained and a restaurant was born.
“The atmosphere really is unlike anything you will find anywhere else,” Hamilton said. “Care was taken to preserve the natural environment as the restaurant grew. Today, you can dine under the lights in the live oak trees over the outdoor dining deck and property. And maybe even glimpse the dolphins and otters playing in Chimney Creek.”
They’re also known for the “Gator Lagoon,” where kids in particular always enjoy seeing the baby alligators. There are plenty of photo opportunities all through the restaurant.
But it really is all about the food, with a “signature blend of spices” used to season the seafood served in the traditional Low Country style – which means steamed or boiled with peel-and-eat shrimp and local crabs when available. It also includes corn and potatoes – all together in one pot, bubbling away with The Crab Shack’s signature seasoning.
“You can get fried seafood anywhere,” Hamilton said. “But people love our seafood for the authentic Low Country flavors.”
You also have the “Snow Country” boil which features snow crab. The Captain’s Sampler Platter showcases a little bit of everything – snow crab, rock crab, mussels, crawfish, shrimp, corn, potatoes and sausage.
The stews, deviled crabs and all sides are homemade, as well as the barbeque, jerk and cocktail sauces – and for those who don’t eat seafood, there’s also barbeque and sandwiches on the menu.
Diners still almost feel like it’s really nothing more than that casual meet-up at the end of the day, cooking up the fresh catch – cats roam around, you can get close to the water, and plenty of shade from the draping oak trees – it’s almost like being in a giant tree house.
It is the ample outdoor dining that has made The Crab Shack almost uniquely situated to be a great place for guests during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This year has been very tough on the restaurant industry,” Hamilton said. “We’re extremely grateful that our ample space, open-air dining rooms and expansive outdoor deck have allowed us to keep operating in the safest manner possible.”
They have added options like curbside pickup and meal kits – which were being shipped for years before the pandemic, but have certainly increased in popularity as people who aren’t traveling at the moment are hankering for a taste of fresh seafood at home.
“It’s a great way to relive memories of Tybee Island and enjoy our Crab Shack experience at home,” Hamilton said.
They can ship anywhere in the continental U.S., and all meal kits come with everything needed – even the secret spice.
Also via their online store, LoCo To Go, you can purchase many of the dishes, sauces and spices separately, including “Captain Jack’s Secret Spice.”
It has been a rough year, but Hamilton is convinced of The Crab Shack’s longevity when asked where they’ll be in 50 years.
“We’ll still be here,” she said. “On the banks of Chimney Creek, serving up the food you know and love. We look forward to your visit!”
The Crab Shack is at 40 Estill Hammock Rd. and is open noon-8 p.m., Sundays through Thursdays; and noon-9 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays.
Runner-up: Savannah Shrimp Factory