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Crawfish Shack Seafood restaurant review, Atlanta

$$

$$

“Life is about not waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

“Never get so busy making a living, that you forget to make a life.”

“If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.”

Review by John Kessler

Review by John Kessler

These are but a few of the aphorisms printed on wooden plaques that fill the walls at Crawfish Shack Seafood on Buford Highway. Beneath them, on rows of communal wooden benches, sits a steam pot of Atlantans of seemingly every age, every race and every country of origin.

My family and I join the crowd, cracking crab legs and peeling shrimp. The young couple next to us speak Vietnamese and treat their iced raw oysters as a canvas for black pepper, lemon and sriracha sauce. On the other side, three women in matching biker T-shirts dig into overstuffed po-boys. A little girl at the next table – no older than 4, her cornrowed hair a riot of elastics with clanky pink balls – grows bored with her food-rapt parents and turns to observe us. Soon she and I are making surreptitious faces and trying not to giggle.

Everyone loves the good, fresh-tasting, affordable seafood at this restaurant, where the simple messages on the walls echo a friendly spirit of good faith and community. Hieu Pham – a young Atlantan of Vietnamese, Chinese and Cambodian extraction who was born in Grady Memorial Hospital – opened the restaurant about 2 1/2 years ago as what he thought would be a carry-out joint. But those three tables on site filled quickly, so a year ago Pham knocked out a wall and expanded into the next-door space. Now people line up at the counter, order and wander into the dining room to sidle into benches and wait for their food.

Shack-Tastic platter for two (photos by Becky Stein)

Shack-Tastic platter for two (photos by Becky Stein)

The order of the day is Louisiana Cajun-style, through a prism. There may be a little lemongrass in that spicy boil, or a lobster roll on the sandwich list alongside the tilapia po-boy. It’s not precisely life on the bayou, but that’s what makes this charmer feel so here, so now.

Pham and his restaurant were profiled in a smart article in The New York Times last year as an example of the emerging national trend of Cajun seafood houses run by Vietnamese immigrants. It makes perfect sense when you come here and see Asian customers delicately work their way through a bowl of crawfish, sucking every bit of spicy goodness from the heads and even cracking the claws for the morsels within.

You know what you should do? Just go for it. We order the “shack-tastic” platter for two ($39.99) and get a cracker, wet towel, cups of butter and cocktail sauce and a huge, huge mess of yumminess. First comes a huge bowl of crawfish and then an even more enormous bowl holding snow crab clusters, blue crabs, shrimp, green-lipped mussels, corn and red potatoes in a wondrous, ruddy elixir. I love the way the kitchen splits and decorticates shrimp and boils them to coax that fleece-like softness from them. Also: Big love to the sweet blue crabs, a pleasure to smash and pick through. No, I didn’t mind the rubbery frozen mussels, but they seemed like seafood-medley cheap filler. A handful of fresh mussels would have been better and enriched the broth.

Soft-shell crab po' boy with a side of sweet potato fries

Soft-shell crab po' boy with a side of sweet potato fries

You can also order a fried platter, and this kitchen gives you the option of a light corn-flour batter or a crunchy cornmeal batter. We didn’t want to commit to a whole fried ocean, but a No. 7 combo ($9.99) gave us two juicy pieces of fresh snapper in a light coating along with four shrimp and two sides. Put it all together, and you have a mountain of food for a family of four.

So how are the sides? About what you’d expect or perhaps hope for. The corn seems pre-frozen, the hush puppies well spiced, and the sweet potato fries crisp and impossible to stop eating. They come with a container of powdered sugar that will end up smeared all over your face and clothing. Well worth it.

If I were a scientist, I might survey the dining population at Crawfish Shack Seafood and notice a correlation between the customers’ preference for fried or steamed seafood and their body mass index. Not being a scientist and not espying any mirrors in the room, I dig into my fried soft-shell crab po-boy ($11, half, $13.99, whole). Holy yumola: Crusty Amoroso Bakery bread, bibb lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, remoulade sauce and that juicy crab combine into a dozen happy mouthfuls. The lobster roll ($17.99, whole only) with garlic butter is kind of fun, though made with warm-water lobster tail chopped into bits and in no way any kind of kissing-crustacean cousin to a real Maine lobster roll. If you get it for a kick, go for fried rather than steamed lobster. But, really, you want the shrimp po-boy ($6, half, $8.99, whole) that is burstier, sweeter and more flavorful.

Hieu Pham

Hieu Pham

The experience here is pretty basic. If there are fried boudin balls ($5 for five) on the specials list, then you might have a tasty appetizer for the table before the bowls and platters of seafood land. If you want dessert, you can buy a crumbly, shrink-wrapped praline ($2.89) at the counter. If you want an alcoholic beverage, you’re fresh out of luck.

And as much as I warm to this restaurant, I don’t want to oversell it. Yes, that remoulade on the sandwiches is tasty and, yes, you may see tubs of it roll through the dining room right off the delivery truck. That bright yellow oleaginous dip tastes more of margarine than butter, but that won’t bother you.

More to the point, don’t go looking for gourmet sea treats at Crawfish Shack Seafood. There’s no sushi-grade tuna, swordfish, diver scallops or striped bass whispering a story of high-class shoals.

This is down-and-delicious, head-sucking seafood that’s always fresh tasting, sometimes farmed and once in a while previously frozen. So, I do want to sell the eatery just right, because that’s what Hieu Pham does. He’s a great restaurateur, and I think we’re just seeing the beginning of what he can do.

CRAWFISH SHACK SEAFOOD
4337 Buford Highway, 404-929-6789
2stars5
Food: appealing Cajun-style seafood, steamed or fried
Service: friendly and prompt
Best dishes: Shrimp po-boy, “shacktastic” platters, fried snapper
Vegetarian selections: just side dishes and an American cheese po-boy
Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa and Discover
Hours: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 12:30-8 p.m. Sundays
Children: perfect family joint
Parking: in attached lot
Reservations: yes
Wheelchair access: full
Smoking: no
Noise level: moderate
Patio: a few tables facing the parking lot that could charitably be called a patio
Takeout: yes

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63 comments Add your comment

mrb

June 9th, 2011
8:40 am

Sounds great. The kind of place we need more of in Atlanta.

Nick D

June 9th, 2011
9:25 am

Some of the best po-boys in the city. The shrimp and crawfish po-boys bring me right back to Nawlins.

Nick D

June 9th, 2011
9:27 am

But personally I would give it 3 stars- when I get a craving for boiled crawfish (which is often), I’ll drive pretty far out of my way to the Shack, so at least for me, it “merits a drive if you’re looking for this kind of dining”.

HotlantaHobo

June 9th, 2011
9:33 am

Having lived in New Orleans for 25 years and being surrounded by places similar to this, but not so eclectic, it was like finding a lost friend when this guy opened up. Not the one I left behind, but happy to find again.

I also came to the conclusion that the bulk of Atlanta restaurant seafood is prepared and served in Asian restaurants. Why are restaurants serving traditional southern seafood rare as black truffles here? Bad shrimp with lobster sauce is available every few hundred yards as is sushi, but this sort of place requires a major drive for most people. The market is here….just look at the massive lines to get into the Marietta Fish Market.

I’d love to have that place in the BP puff piece commercial (Restaurant des Familles in Crown Point, LA) to open up here but I’d even settle for Ralph and Kacoo’s to show up in 6 locations. I guess Red Lobster is our lot.

Edward

June 9th, 2011
10:03 am

I would love to try the tilapia or grouper po-boys and the sweet potato fries and such, but with my severe allergy to shellfish, I can’t take the chance that they fry those items in the same oil they fry the shellfish.

Eric

June 9th, 2011
10:06 am

I absolutely love this place. I would have given it three stars, John Kessler. However, what do I know? You’re the food critic. I just know I love it and I’m never disappointed.

John Kessler

June 9th, 2011
10:44 am

Was right on the edge, Eric. I really liked the place a ton, and think with fresh mussels, fresh corn and maybe a couple of seasonal specials or house desserts or a liquor license it would be there.

Katherine

June 9th, 2011
11:16 am

This review is so annoying. Why can’t you just enjoy what they offer?

“More to the point, don’t go looking for gourmet sea treats at Crawfish Shack Seafood. There’s no sushi-grade tuna, swordfish, diver scallops or striped bass whispering a story of high-class shoals.”

They put out a good product. Judge that. If you want to review a place like this, you cannot judge it like it is a fine dining establishment that should be offering a completely different product.

JimmyZ

June 9th, 2011
11:30 am

Katherine: The point of a review is not to just “enjoy” what they offer, although he clearly did, it’s to tell us (the readers) what to expect.

As I read it, his quote and your last paragraph essentially say the same thing, only he does it in a much more creative way.

John, thanks for the review, looks like I’ve got another one on the list to visit.

Reds

June 9th, 2011
12:12 pm

Agreed — will have to search this out. Looked on the menu, and they had a 1 lb boiled crawfish and 2 sides “deal” that was $7.99. That’s pretty good in my book. Did you find the “market price” of the fresh stuff to be decent?

ted

June 9th, 2011
1:43 pm

Word of the day = “decorticated” (sp in OP)

The only time I’ve been it was a trainwreck b/c they were short staffed and couldn’t get food out of the kitchen. Need to try it again.

Rick

June 9th, 2011
2:32 pm

Well, i think the bottom line here is where John says: “This is down-and-delicious, head-sucking seafood…” And that it truly is. Had the crawfish po boy last week and it was amazing. It is always good.

RK

June 9th, 2011
2:44 pm

Why would anyone bother with frozen/dead mussels, when they are so easy to get?

John

June 9th, 2011
4:23 pm

It is a good spot, however, hours are spotty during the week and if they get too busy, they refuse to do take-out orders. I think the publicity they have received is good for business, but they were not ready for the influx in customers and it severly hurts not only their wait time but customer service as well. A nice addtion would be a separate line for Take-Our orders only, this would expidite a lot of the wait time. All in all, food is good and consistant, Po-boys are excellent.

Voss

June 9th, 2011
4:33 pm

If you want great fresh crawfish head over to Big Easy Grille every Wednesday on Collier road.

OMRebs99

June 9th, 2011
4:33 pm

I ordered a dozen raw oysters on the half shell and got a pearl in one of them my second time at The Crawfish Shack so my visit paid for itself. This place is about as close as you will get to a Cajun Seafood stand outside of Louisiana or Mississippi. It is pretty good for Atlanta. The crawfish were good, I have had and make better myself. The fresh fried jumbo shrimp are real good.

cajun c

June 9th, 2011
4:45 pm

best cajun food I’ve had: henry’s grill in acworth—way out there but good.

Observer

June 9th, 2011
4:51 pm

Crumpy been here?

Buford Hwy Eater

June 9th, 2011
5:07 pm

“He’s a great restaurateur, and I think we’re just seeing the beginning of what he can do.”

-I have to disagree here. I would say he is a great restaurateur in the fact that he puts out a great product. I eat here all the time because I live right down the road, it is a gem. However, who has hours like this? Also on more than 3 occassions my roommate and I have ordered take out and they don’t put the order in until we get there. They always say they forgot but give us sarcastic grins and then call us by name, so obviously they know who we are when we call but don’t put our order in anyway causing a 15-20 minute wait. I’m OK with restaurants that don’t take phone orders but if you claim you do then this is not a good practice. Food is great, service not so much, the hours…..mind boggling.

Bellefay1

June 9th, 2011
5:08 pm

I went to this place when it just opened thinking it was just a seafood market. I got two pounds of shrimp and they sort of looked at me funny like I was not getting what they were going for.

Smart move putting in the extra benches because now the entire parking lot is full for this place 7 days a week.

Great addition to the cultural mecca that is Buford Highway.

John

June 9th, 2011
5:13 pm

Buford Hwy Eater: Couldn’ agree with you more. The take out system is very inconsistent and extremely irritating when you think you have placed an order, then show up to find out that it was never taken… I can appreciate that it is a family fun business, but who closes at 7pm during the week? If you call after 6:45pm, they will not take any orders either….

Annie

June 9th, 2011
5:22 pm

Was there Tuesday! Also went closer to when it first opened, about a year and a half ago. I’m glad they’ve expanded, and my friend from NOLA endorses their cooking methods (boiled crawfish, not steamed!). Another great addition to the foodstravagasmpalooza that is Buford Highway.

Suduko Princess

June 9th, 2011
5:36 pm

Amorosoa rolls???? In Atlanta (not Philly!!!!) Tell the cheesesteak (”Philly”!)wing places how to order and all of you will double your business…

KK76

June 9th, 2011
5:38 pm

Never have logged in, but felt compelled on this one. Love this place. Loved it more before it had a line out of the door; but hey that’s what eventually happens with anything good, right? Agree with the sentiments on take-out service too, though. No longer efficient.

N-GA

June 9th, 2011
5:54 pm

John – Black boudin or white? Also, for those who complain about them not putting the phone-in order in until they arrive, I believe properly cooked seafood requires precise timing. If you are 5 minutes late picking it up, the food goes south quickly.

Bob

June 9th, 2011
5:55 pm

I ate lunch here a few months ago with a freind who recommended it, and thought the food was fresh and delicious. It definitely exceeded the expectations I had when I parked in the lot! John’s review seems right on the mark based upon my limited experience – and if there is anyone who knows Buford Highway restaurants, it’s John!.

t-bone west

June 9th, 2011
6:00 pm

If it’s so good then why only 2 stars??

Val

June 9th, 2011
6:08 pm

muddy waters

June 9th, 2011
6:22 pm

This place is “worth a drive.” Either this rating should be three stars or the rating criteria needs to be tweaked.

Art

June 9th, 2011
6:33 pm

Geez, JK… stop it already!! I spend enough time in Atlanta traffic without you enticing me to travel from Cumming to Buford Hwy… My wife is Cajun so I guess it’s better than driving to NOLA… We’ll definitely be trying this place in the near future… Hopefully they’ll get a liquor license by then… then again there’s that DANG drive… “Oh taxi…”

truthpaste

June 9th, 2011
6:45 pm

Found this place almost a year ago and stop by at least once a month. AYCE Crawfish Mondays is my thing, but I have moved around the menu. So glad when they put the refillable tea urns up, the spice was getting to me.

ATLBadger

June 9th, 2011
7:29 pm

This place is three stars worthy. Lots of people more than happy to drive out of their way to hit it up. I know I am….and honestly, who really cares that the corn might have been previously frozen? No one goes there for the darn corn…

redhousecat

June 9th, 2011
7:42 pm

I certainly wish I lived closer. The review has convinced me that I would be quite a consistent customer. Maybe if they didn’t carry the word “seafood” in their title, less people would be confused.

Joetheplumbers great grandfather

June 10th, 2011
5:28 am

Sounds great…move to east cobb, the home of big chains but sadly lacking in “mom/pop” restaurants.

Ken

June 10th, 2011
7:19 am

I hope they don’t use Chinesh Crawfish. It’s cheaper and probably what they do, but trust me, you want the American caught.

KBG

June 10th, 2011
8:26 am

I LOVE SEAFOOD and live right up the road (Peachtree Corners)…I will be trying this place ASAP!

John Kessler

June 10th, 2011
8:28 am

Ken — I checked, and it’s Louisiana crawfish for both live and shelled, from two direct suppliers.

Bob Atherton

June 10th, 2011
9:06 am

Dang John, it’s only 9:00 am and I’m seriously hungery now and I am allergic to shellfish! Good article as usual.

swampem

June 10th, 2011
10:10 am

Thanks for the review John. It’s a haul for me from west Forsyth co.but I’ll try it when in the neighborhood.

EK

June 10th, 2011
10:39 am

Guess I’m in the minority here in that I think this place is grossly overrated. I’ve been 3 times and the food has been inconsistent and the service terrible. I’ve waited 45+ min for an order that they most likely forgot about. The front of house seems to be run by teenagers, who are inexperienced, giggly & inefficient. Once 2 girls were teaching a customer how to eat a crawfish while the line to order stretched out the door! Food was good on 1st visit & has dropped off as they’ve gained notoriety. Hopefully they’ll improve as it looks like they will be getting even busier!

RAMBLE ON!!!

June 10th, 2011
10:53 am

It is pretty good food. If you get something to go, they have messed up the side items 2 out of the 4 times I’ve been.

Check it there or you maybe disappointed when you get home.

Last Word

June 10th, 2011
11:08 am

How can anyone enjoy mudpuppies, snow & blue crab, mussels and shrimp without beer?!!!!!

Last Word

June 10th, 2011
11:12 am

Annie:

“foodstravagasmpalooza”

:D

DawnP

June 10th, 2011
11:30 am

My son and I LOVE this place. It’s so damn fabulous it doesn’t need a liquor license. You want your seafood with beer? Take it home with you and drink away.

shaggy

June 10th, 2011
12:32 pm

Why did you use the word “decorticate”? I looked it up and still don’t know why you used it in this review. Was it supposed to be your “Andrew Bourdain” reach vocabulary for us food underlings?
However, the food sounds good, and I usually love eating at “shacks”…they are usually not pretentious.

shaggy

June 10th, 2011
12:33 pm

EK,

No, the place is great. They just don’t like YOU.

John Kessler

June 10th, 2011
2:06 pm

Shaggy – I like words and overreach sometimes. Yep, they peeled back the shells….

John Kessler

June 10th, 2011
2:07 pm

Last Word, Annie — Agree! Great word!!

Alice

June 10th, 2011
3:25 pm

Please add the restaurant’s web site to the facts at the end of each review. Then I can view the menu and bookmark the site as a place to try. Thanks.

John Kessler

June 10th, 2011
4:27 pm

Alice – If you click on the restaurant’s hyperlinked name, it will take you to the website.