I swear I don’t eat out every meal! Really, I don’t.
Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to the topic at hand: Crawfish Shack Seafood on Buford Highway. When most ATLiens think of casual seafood eateries, Six Feet Under, Fontaine’s and Steamhouse Lounge usually reign supreme [Speaking of which … I think I’ll pull my Steamhouse review off the book shelf and post it here]. Needless to say, none of those places blow my britches up.
Enter the Crawfish Shack. Despite a most unusual location and one of the more a-typical owners for a restaurant of this type, this Cajun-centric Creole restaurant has already developed a strong following. Open approximately nine months, it was high time I gave it a shot. Yesterday, Papa Buddha decided to have a little male bonding. The results were mixed, but ultimately positive.
Crawfish Shack isn’t really a shack; in fact, it isn’t even a free standing building. Instead, CSS is located in a relatively new strip center up on Buford Highway. Just north of Dresden, the place is easy to miss. You’ll find it just past the Mercedes-Benz shop on the East side of the road. There is no street sign to help you on your way and a few trees block the view.
While I waited for pops, I took the time to note the dearth of street signage and the interior. As you might infer from the name, the interior of Crawfish Shack is an attempt to replicate the everyman seafood joints that dot the Deep South. It’s a bit too faux for me. In the space they occupy, there really isn’t much they could do in that department. Thus, you’ll find the obligatory fisherman nets and the like. As with most decorative styles, it does little to swing me either way. It does little to help, but even less to hurt.
About this time, something in my head started to bubble. Something was amiss. In this neck of the woods, two types of restaurants seem to monopolize the streets: Latino restaurants and Southeast Asian restaurants. This is most certainly not one of those establishments. Further to the point, the owner, a rather young chap, hails from Asia. That said, I don’t know where he was born or where his parents are from and he speaks without any discernable accent. It just goes to show that when in Rome, do what the Greeks do.
We walked in and weren’t entirely clear on the procedure. A simple counter (with refrigerated case) covers the back half of the joint. There are maybe six tables inside and two outside. Proper procedure seems to be that you saunter up to the counter, place an order, sit, then return to the counter to pay. When we entered, the front of the house staff was attending to the occupied tables, so I grabbed a menu, wheeled, and sat.
Shortly thereafter, a sweetheart of a young woman approached us to provide service. Throughout the meal, she was attentive. Perhaps a bit overbearing. While the slightly obsessive behavior leaned toward annoying, we didn’t really mind. She had a sweet disposition. More importantly, she knew what she was talking about. Though the menu is pretty straight forward, she displayed her worth most impressively. More on that in a bit.
As for the menu: You essentially have about a dozen choices of seafood. Most are shellfish (crab(s), oysters, mussels, &shrimp), and everything is ordered by the lb. However, there are six “combos” of a mix and match nature. As one would expect from a seafood shack, items can be ordered raw, steamed, or boiled. Though it is clearly explained on the menu, our kind server took the time to explain that in great detail.
Meanwhile, the standard sides all make an appearance: fries, hush puppies, corn on the cob, red taters, and potato salad. In addition, egg rolls make an unexpected appearance. It’s actually more of a spring roll…but whatevs…let’s not split hairs.
While we contemplated our order, the waitress brought us a two crawdads. Apparently, they will do this for all virgins. She informed us that the recipe could be tweaked if not to our liking. We finally decided that we should order a potpourri of items: order up 1 lb of boiled crawfish, a dozen fried oysters, and 1 lb of shrimp (split between fried and boiled). I wasn’t in the mood for sides, but the fact that CSS offers a spring egg roll, I had our server bring us one of those two. While massively hungry eaters may feel a bit under feed without more substantial of an order, we were just fine with what we got.
First to the table were the namesake crawfish. They set the bar high, very high. Though they lacked uniform size, these were fresh and most certainly delicious. A straight forward Creole spice kicked things off for my tongue. It was appropriately applied and reasonably spicy. I really hate talking about how spicy dishes are, Pops taught me to swallow fire. Still, I think these will suite most taste buds, but if you are adverse to spice … you may want to check yourself.
We were so impressed with the craws that my father ordered 2 lbs to go. Though he’s not the critical ass that I tend to be (wink), that should still tell you something.
Everything else arrived at the same time. I went to the oyster basket first as the waitress had secured the last batch available. While we both were half hoping for a Panko based batter, that really wouldn’t have fit the description very well. What showed up was a simple, easy to swallow breadcrumb coating that provided a solid crunch to the softness of the oysters. Though we did not ask what type of oysters were brought in, these were fairly miniscule in size. The crunch was there, the savory was there, and the oysters were soft with the proper hint of firmness. Not earth shattering, but at $5, this is a great deal.
As I mentioned, we split our 1 lb of shramps between boiled and fried. Of the two, we both preferred the boiled … though each had faults. The boiled large shrimp had a really nice, albeit predictable flavor. In this case, I was quite pleased. They delivered what they were supposed to. Hints of garlic, lemon, bay leaves, salt, and the like all mixed well. I’m sure there were a few more spices in there … but those were the most notable. Even better, they had been split down the spine to ease the peeling process. Still, these were overcooked and not entirely “shrimp poop” free [see pic]. When shrimp get overcooked, they become rubbery and a bit tough.
Meanwhile, the fried shrimp satisfied me, but with hesitation. These were really overcooked, more so than their counterparts. Often times, when a shrimp is overcooked, it will move beyond the ideal “c” shape and into a ring. I could have made some nice bling out of these. In addition, the breading here was the same as it was on the oysters (shocking … I know). Because of the stiffness of the batter and the toughness of the shrimp, bites here were a little more “assertive.” Still, the shrimp were fresh and the batter was tasty, so I wasn’t that bothered. I gladly danced back and forth between the provided tartare sauce and cocktail sauce.
Last up were the rolls. These were a fail, and I don’t suspect there is much potential here. Unlike the shrimp, the problem here was as much with the ingredients as it was with the preparation. The inside was a mishmash of stuff, none of it particularly discernable. Supposedly there was shrimp and chicken. Neither party got that feeling. What’s more, no two egg roll seemed to encase the same mix of ingredients. This ended where it started: with a wrapper that was tough and over cooked (seeing a theme?). Still, dad liked it.
So that’s pretty much it for the food. Perhaps a bit out of order, I want to revisit the service issues. At various times, we had some nice conversations with our server and the owner. At the appropriate times, we were informed that extra sauce came with a surcharge, that the spiciness of the crawfish could be adjusted, and that they were more comfortable boiling their food than steaming it (more flavor). In addition, our server properly articulated the differences between frozen and fresh crawfish and that the Shack would have to switch to frozen in a month (when Crawfish go out of season).
Even more impressive to me was our waitresses harvesting of the oysters. She inspected each one quickly, but carefully. At the slightest hint of “staleness,” the oyster in hand went buh bye…never to be heard from again. Now, I wasn’t there to check her work, but at the very least, nothing bad showed up on our plate. That’s no small feet. Between Steamhouse, Fontaine’s, and Six Feet … I’ve had more than my share of bad shellfish say howdy. Meanwhile, the owner explained that Po’ Boys were on the horizon. Nice!
The one head scratcher I have about this place is the sourcing. They don’t have a set delivery schedule. I got that, it’s how many restaurant operate … but I’m wondering if that will ultimately be the best long term approach. This is neither a critique nor a bashing; rather, this is simply a thing of curiosity. That’s not my call to make. However, it does mean one thing: they can’t guarantee that they will offer a full menu on any given day. Take that as you wish.
Compared to some of the turd burglars I’ve had at some of those other restaurants I mentioned, Crawfish Shack, even after one meal, seems light years ahead. Granted, the menu here is much more streamlined and is the very definition of “no-frills” food.
Though I can count on one hand the number of trips I have made to New Orleans, I have had my fair share of the cities food. Moreover, seafood, specifically shellfish, is easily one of my preferred proteins. So I feel quite comfortable when I say that I liked this meal. In reality, this restaurant is closer in style to the Big Easy Grille (website – and worth a meal) than it is to that trio of ick. As far as Creole seafood joints go, this seems like one of the better options around. Not without its faults, the food is fresh, the service is solid, the staff is friendly, and we escaped for under $15/per (before tip). Most importantly, how could you really knock a place when your father ends up looking like this after the meal:
Oh yeah, before I forget, they close at 7pm on weekdays and 8pm on weekends.