Seafood makes you crabby 

Once-a-week delivery disappoints diners at Crabby Nick's

I understand now how Crabby Nick's Seafood House of Hilton Head got its name. I was pretty crabby myself after enduring a thoroughly mundane dinner there recently. The way I figure it, the less done to fresh seafood, the better. My preference is raw fish (especially oysters on the half-shell); then fish that has been steamed or poached (served cold or hot); fish that has been roasted; and finally, fish that has been broiled. Pan-fried, maybe, as long as no breading is involved. Thick batter is a certain sign that whatever species lies beneath gave up the ghost too long ago to be worth my time and money.

I am immediately suspicious, then, when a seafood restaurant's menu features all sorts of doctored dishes. When it touts pasta as the house specialty, as Crabby Nick's does, I am engulfed by a sense of dread. Especially since, as it turned out, we had to negotiate a depleted pantry.

It wasn't easy. So little of the menu appealed that it took longer than usual to put a meal together. We soon discovered, however, that our time had been wasted: The kitchen was out of three of the six things we ordered. (Tip: Be ready with second and third choices. Delivery day is Tuesday and anything you were thinking of ordering will have been wiped out by the Saturday night crowd.)

One thing of which there was plenty was lobster tail. The standard order (at market price) delivers a pair of them. One with a 6-ounce top sirloin steak is $18.99. The evening of our visit, Crabby Nick's was offering three lobster tails for $21. The catch is that they are prepared in advance with butter -- none of this "on the side" business. Frankly, I wonder about a kitchen that would treat both lobster tails and patrons in that fashion. We passed.

Next, we tried dungeness crab. No sale. "We haven't been able to find a supplier for that," our server informed us. Makes you wonder how it got on the menu, doesn't it?

What about that "crabby" stuffing in the flounder? "Well, it's not really crab; it's mostly cod with some shrimp." Oh.

Soft-shell crab? "We're out of that," our server said apologetically, after yet another trip to the kitchen. "We sold out over the weekend."

Hearing this, two thoughts came to mind. One is that the servers should not be sent out into the dining room without knowing which species are not available. The second is that no serious seafood restaurant would put up with once-a-week delivery.

Foiled once more, we ordered oysters and clam chowder to fend off hunger pangs while we studied the menu yet again.

Crabby Nick's chowder is too salty, thanks to what appeared to be diced ham, but the bowl is happily loaded with diced potatoes and bits of clam.

The oysters, 14 of them, came with the requisite tiny containers of horseradish and cocktail sauce, lemon half and small bottle of Tabasco -- all on ice. The oysters had been rinsed of all brine, no doubt because they weren't right out of the water, so they lacked the wonderful flavor they should have had.

Mussels marinara fared better, since they had at least not been overcooked. The mildly spicy sauce covers any other flavor, anyway; the mussels are there mainly for textural contrast.

I suppose it is unrealistic to expect a place like Crabby Nick's to broil tuna properly -- meaning medium rare at most. Nevertheless, I held out hope. Alas, the best thing on that plate was the steamed vegetables, a nice selection of cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini, carrots and snap peas.

If you are a vegetarian, then, Crabby Nick's might be the place for you.

Crabby Nick's Seafood House of Hilton Head, 2040 Pleasant Hill Road, Duluth, 678-474-0425. Open daily at 4 p.m., although the hostess will start seating at 3:30 if the crowds start pouring in. The restaurant closes at 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, and at 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Moderate. Average price of entree, not counting those at market price, $15. Credit cards. Dress: casual. Ambiance: fake seashore. No-smoking section. Wheelchair accessible.

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