Friday, November 14, 2003

Great Robb Walsh article on the Pleasure in Eating Crabs in Houston

The difference between an oyster bar and a crab shack has more to do with the attitude than the menu items. Both Captain Tom's and Blue Water serve raw oysters, fried shrimp, stuffed crabs and other seafoods. But nobody lingers too long at an oyster bar like Captain Tom's, and that's why they don't serve boiled crabs here. With all those people waiting in line, you wouldn't enjoy them anyway.

Blue Water Seafood is a crab shack. The staff expects you to come and hang out for a while. Crab shacks are disappearing because they don't turn over the tables fast enough, one crab shack owner told me. According to restaurant industry analysts, the average table turns over in 50 minutes at dinnertime. At a crab shack, the average stay exceeds two hours.

Eating blue crabs is part of an older, more relaxed Gulf Coast culture that's slowly slipping away. "It's too much work," people say. "It takes too long." When it comes to food, we have become a nation of efficiency experts. We know how long it takes to nuke a frozen dinner, and for many, anything that takes much longer is just a waste of time. In other cultures, spending several hours at the table is a normal way of socializing. But for the puritanically efficient eaters we Americans have become, sitting over a meal for hours on end seems sinfully unproductive. And as for conversation, well, if you have something to say, then just say it. We haven't got all day.

To shell and eat a crab, a certain knowledge of its anatomy is required, but after a little practice, it's as easy as eating grapefruit. As we were finishing up, the Simpsons special ended, and something else came on -- so I can say with some accuracy that it took us an hour and a half to eat our half-dozen crabs. Not bad at all, and no major injuries either. Sure, Julia's fingers were all pruney, as if she had just spent time in the bathtub. And I was bleeding slightly from my left thumb where I'd stuck myself with a sharp body part. But we won the war -- I can guarantee that not one skinny little crab leg went into the bucket unsucked.

Eating crabs can't be understood in terms of an effort-to-reward ratio. It's silly to undertake the task with the idea of getting as much out of it as quickly as possible. Rather, it's a culinary pastime, like eating nuts as you crack them with a nutcracker. The point is to take your time and appreciate the slow process of eating as its own form of entertainment.

Pat Van Houte used to go crabbing when she first moved to Clear Lake. She finally decided catching and cooking and eating them was too much like work.

One of my favorites is Stingaree Restaurant and Bar (1295 Stingaree Road, 409-684-2731), a barbecued crab shack on Bolivar Peninsula that looks out over a magnificent view of Galveston Bay (see "Blue Crab Standard Time," September 6, 2001). The idea is to show up and order the all-you-can-eat crab special about an hour and a half before sunset. Then you can crack crabs in the lovely fading light and watch the sun slip into the water. If you're hungry, you may still be cracking crabs when the stars come out.

Blue Water Seafood
Details: Raw oysters (dozen): $5.99
Roasted oysters (dozen): $7.99 (Wow!)
Boiled blue crabs (half-dozen): $10
Boiled dinner: $18.99 (Good, except for soggy corn on the cob)
Fisherman's platter: $15.99 (So-So because of mushy "redsnapper")
Where: 6107 FM 1960, 281-895-9222. Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

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