Craw­fish Shack Seafood: A ‘fried-tas­tic’ mess

GA Voice - - Celebrating Stonewall -

Nor­mally, I don’t bother to re­view re­ally dis­ap­point­ing restau­rants, but

Craw­fish Shack Seafood (4337 Bu­ford Hwy, 404-329-1610, craw­fishshack­seafood.com)

is a place I have raved about like few oth­ers since it opened in 2008. An­thony Bour­dain and the New York Times loved it too. But, in three vis­its with friends in the last year or so, we have watched it de­cline to some­thing that by last week made us feel like char­ac­ters in a car­toon.

The down­ward slide is un­usual only in its ex­tent. In my 30 years of writ­ing about restau­rants, I’ve al­ways main­tained that any re­view should be con­sid­ered a re­port of a mo­ment in time. A change of own­ers, chefs, and ser­vice staff can quickly re­verse a restau­rant’s qual­ity. But, trust me, I’ve rarely seen any­thing like this.

First is the am­biance. This is what we prin­ci­pally no­ticed on our sec­ond visit. The restau­rant has be­come grimy. Don’t drape your ceil­ings with nets and never clean them. Ditto for the con­crete floor, the walls and even the counter where you or­der. It’s all about grease and con­stant fry­ing.

Sec­ond and fore­most is the ser­vice. Now, it fre­quently hap­pens that you can’t get pre­cisely what you want. The own­ers of this restau­rant have been fa­nat­i­cal about serv­ing in­sea­son, high-qual­ity fish and shell­fish. The short­age was worse than usual the sec­ond visit. But the third was out­ra­geous.

I had de­cided on a plate of fried craw­fish. “We don’t sell a plate of fried craw­fish, only boiled.” What­ever. The on­line menu says other­wise. Anyway, I wasn’t in the mood to tear heads off the tiny crea­tures, even though the Ca­jun­spiced boil here has al­ways been spec­tac­u­lar. Then she said I could have the fried craw­fish if I or­dered the $28 “fried-tas­tic plat­ter” or a po’ boy. So I said I’ll have the po’ boy. “We’re out of bread.” Then I de­cided I’d have the soft shell crab plate. “We don’t have any of those ei­ther.” Just give me the damn fried shrimp.

It gets weirder. My friend Brian or­dered that su­per-size “fried-tas­tic plat­ter.” When it came to the ta­ble, it was pre­sented as two thrown-together bas­kets in­stead of a plat­ter. There was in­deed a huge mound of the al­lowed fried craw­fish. It was sup­posed to have a soft-shell crab, so he had to sub­sti­tute an ad­di­tional piece of fish. About a third of the way into the meal, a server came to the ta­ble and de­posited a soft-shell crab on the ta­ble. “We found one,” he said. It se­ri­ously looked like some­one had stepped on it.

Brian dug in and in­stantly reeled. “It’s ran­cid!” he yelled. I took a fork­ful and lit­er­ally spit it out. I se­ri­ously do not re­mem­ber ever tast­ing any­thing so bad. Beware of “found” crabs.

The third dis­ap­point­ment: Even the food that was palat­able was only mod­er­ately tasty. I was sur­prised how thick the bat­ter on much of it was. Those cov­eted craw­fish were like nuggets of deep fried flour, pe­riod. The big deal here has al­ways been that the owner is Viet­namese-Amer­i­can. Asian cul­tures are fa­mous for know­ing how to fry seafood with­out over­whelm­ing the taste with overly thick bat­ter. On the other hand, South­ern fish-camp afi­ciona­dos might pre­fer it this way.

Per­haps this was all a fluke, but the restau­rant – all com­mu­nity ta­bles – was nearly empty. It has al­ways been packed in the past. Maybe it will im­prove. Please visit and let me know. I’m not tak­ing on that task.

Cliff Bostock is a long­time din­ing critic and psy­chother­a­pist turned life coach. www.cliff­bo­stock.com.

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