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Crawfish Shack Seafood restaurant review, Atlanta

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“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

Disappointed... but also not a crawfish boil kinda guy

June 10th, 2011
10:28 pm

This restaurant was signed up with Scoutmob (for those unaware, a discount offering program), but when we arrived and ordered, they said they were no longer accepting the discount. We were told there was a disagreement between the owner and the Scoutmob group. We had waited in line over 10 minutes to find this out. I asked if they could honor the discount on this visit and was told no. I asked if there was another discount available and was told no. I let the attendant know that i thought it was an unfair policy to advertise the discount only to tell you they don’t accept it at the register.
It is the owners responsibility to know what he is getting into when he makes an agreement such as the one with Scoutmob. Of course, he can cancel at renewal or end such agreements going forward, but I think it’s bad business to simply drop the agreement mid-stream. Naturally, there is no communication to a prospective customer like myself that the discount program is no longer being accepted. Since my GF was ready to eat there all day, we ate anyway at full price and I’m quite sure most disappointed scoutmobers eat there anyway.
Lastly, the food is only ok. I am not a big crawfish boil fan so admittedly this would likely never get a rave review from me. We tried the full basket of stuff, each cooked a different way. This type of full dinner order is NOT cheap as we spent about $55 for two people. For me, the food all tastes the same, watery, salty, some of it chewy, messy and not even filling. Each crawfish has meat about the size of a small stripe of toothpaste on your brush (even smaller). Shrimp were small and i thought bland. A skewer of charred grilled shrimp w/ a lil pepper jelly n lime glaze kills this watery chewy seasoning salted shrimp that could’ve passed as tofu!
I do not recommend this place. I have eaten at hundreds of places on Buford Hwy (often for $8-10 person) and I would much rather pick one out of a hat versus eat here again.

Danny

June 10th, 2011
11:34 pm

I love the place but unfortunately once a place becomes overly popular I don’t care going anymore. The place is always overly crowded. Atlanta Seafood is really terrible, the options like Crawfish Shack are only a few.

Seafood here is defined by fried fish mainly. All these popular restaurants like Spondivitis, Pappadeux, Joe’s Crab Shack are all on the line of fast food, they don’t serve the best. Like one comment said, Asians understand Seafood much better and serve it all and in different flavors, whole crabs, crawfish, mussels, oysters, shrimp, etc. I went to Strip that says Steak and Seafood, this restaurant doesn’t even serve Scallops for the prices they charge.

I wish there were a whole lot more of these besides Crawfish Shack and another one which I won’t name because I don’t want more people to go there.

george

June 11th, 2011
12:12 am

this place sounds terrific. they don’t prepare takeout orders in advance-who likes soggy, cooling seafood and they close early because they want to. no liquor license likely keeps prices and crowds down. some of my favorite meals have been in mennonite restaurants in various parts of the country and they never sell alcohol. can’t wait to try this place on my next trip to the atl. it sounds like the anti-foodie-blais etc. and a great place to go with friends/and or family without the need for a special occassion or car payment sized bill.

good

June 12th, 2011
9:26 am

Seafood–good, not great. Not worth a long drive from the suburbs. Overall–atlanta seafood is mediocre, which is surprising for a large city with a diverse population.

John

June 12th, 2011
10:05 am

You’re going to something called Crawfish Shack expecting sushi grade tuna? 2 star reviewer.

Yea

June 12th, 2011
2:43 pm

Wow I ate here Friday ….It was GREAT

Andy

June 12th, 2011
5:56 pm

I am thankful for the person that took me here over a year ago. I cant think of how many times I have eaten here since. Love the place

Alana

June 13th, 2011
11:06 am

Love this place! Hieu is wonderful as well as his staff! Also, try the Creole Pretzels from Chay J’s New Orleans Candies!! It’s like praline coated pretzels. The BEST candy I ever had!

Renaissance

June 13th, 2011
12:27 pm

Worst customer service ever. And they have the nerve to have a sign posted that says “We refuse to serve you if you have a bad attitude.” I’m not sure if it can be worse than theirs. Store hours are weird and the last time I was there they had a sign posted stating that they would no longer be honoring the ScoutMob deals.

Swag (The Original)

June 13th, 2011
1:08 pm

(Two Stars) the food is bland. I went out the way to find this place, but for the price and quality of food you can definitely prepare your own seafood dinner from the farmers market and get more for your money. Me and the whole family went and we did not enjoy it enough to return. Normally I would cook our own but it was late and the market was closed.

Paul

June 13th, 2011
1:14 pm

If you like this place, then you have no idea what good, real seafood taste like. The food is bland and overpriced.

Yvonne Conway

June 13th, 2011
2:54 pm

I read your recommendation and took my husband on Friday night. I am from DC and moved here in 1973. This is the closest that I have had, to what I was used to in DC, when it comes to good, fresh, delicious seafood. I had the fried oysters with cole slaw, my husband had the talapia with shrimp, fries and hush puppies. We cleaned up the plates and enjoyed it so much that we took my daughter, who is definitely an upscale foodie, back on Saturday night. She is still talking about the oysters and just e-mailed me for the exact name and address. Guess she is on the way back. My husband and I will definitely be returning.

nicole in duluth

June 13th, 2011
6:33 pm

There is another good but small spot in Duluth on Pleasant Hill at Steve Reynold’s. New Orleans Seafood, also Vietnamese Gulf Coasters, great food, but only take out, gets busy on the weekend. Nice oyster po boys, and they have snoballs and Big Shot soda!