Bird’s eye view of a the table (or part of it). Bee staff
Bird’s eye view of a the table (or part of it). Bee staff

Carla Meyer

The Sacramento Bee’s dining critic knows good taste

Carla Meyer

Dining review: When urge hits to chow down, Sacramento’s Boiling Crab is great option

By Blair Anthony Robertson

brobertson@sacbee.com

November 22, 2014 10:00 AM

When it comes to food, I suffer from multiple personality disorder. I’m guessing some of you have the same affliction.

Sometimes, I crave refinement, creativity and some extravagance. I want the music, the nice lighting, a bottle of wine and maybe a little romance. I want food that inspires with its artistry, colors, aromas and flavors.

And other times, I just want to pig out.

Try as I might to project an air of sophistication when I’m out there noshing, I nevertheless have an inner glutton dying to have his way.

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When those urges get too strong, when I want the culinary equivalent of “dancing like nobody’s watching,” I can’t imagine a better way to set them free than to corral some of my favorite people, sit down and start cracking shells and stuffing face at the Boiling Crab. It is crowded, loud, messy and plenty fun.

In my assessment of the Boiling Crab that follows, you will not find me using the following words (for a change): local, sustainable, nouveau, artisan, craft, organic, finesse, elegance, balance, precision and restraint.

No, this ain’t the place for restraint.

We cracked and slurped and chewed our way through king crab. We pried and munched and savored the snow crab. We gasped and choked and coughed as we ate the spicy “XXX”-rated french fries. We ate more crab. We stared at those fries with a mix of glee and fear and couldn’t resist. We swigged beer. We did crawfish.

There may or may not have been belching. We wiped our hands dozens of times. My nose ran. Bits of food stuck to my face.

I nodded off that night with a big smile and full belly, practically overwhelmed by the pinching, prying, cracking and devouring extravaganza that is the Boiling Crab.

This small, no-frills chain originated in Texas and opened its first spot a decade ago. Sure, there is a little bit of hokey, cringe-inducing contrivance, especially when you read about the restaurant’s origins and encounter words like “Yo’Daddy” and “Yo’Mamma.” But it’s no big deal. Yo’Daddy and Yo’Mamma weren’t anywhere to be found.

There are nine of these joints in Southern California, with a 10th soon to open in Westwood, according to the website. The Sacramento location is nestled in the thick of restaurant-rich Little Saigon at the corner of Stockton Boulevard and 65th Street.

This is not a Southeast Asian establishment, but it’s for anyone who speaks the international language of crab done right, and who wants to enjoy good seafood in a casual atmosphere.

If you don’t like eating with your hands, you should not even think about going there. If you are concerned about having food stuck in your teeth or food that might somehow be propelled into your hair (more on that in a minute), don’t go there. If you get creeped out by cracking body armor and hunting for the meat inside, this place isn’t for you.

During a recent visit, our timing could not have been better. We arrived on the early side of dinner and snagged a booth without waiting. There will be times when you’ll have an extended wait. If it’s too crowded or you don’t have the patience, you’re in luck: There are more cool restaurants in this one stretch of Stockton Boulevard than anywhere else in the Greater Sacramento area.

Each Boiling Crab table is covered with a large sheet of coated paper. Mere seconds after I arrived (my three friends already were enjoying their first beer), our server asked if we were ready to order. We weren’t. She returned in 60 seconds and asked again. Still not ready. It’s not that the menu is complicated; it’s that you may want to approach this eating experience with a strategy.

Do you want to start off with a bang? Or ease in with something light and less-daunting like thick, gooey, delicious gumbo with rice? Or balance the food throughout the dining experience, which generally lasts about an hour?

Or do you do what we did and order lots of food, lots of variety, lots of sauces and start chowing down like there’s no tomorrow?

Don’t wear clothes you care about. Don’t wear a white dress shirt, even if it’s not your favorite. If you have long hair, pull it back so it doesn’t draped all over crab shells slathered with sauce. Be prepared to use lots of napkins (the four of us probably used more than 50 of them). I have never had so much stuff on my hands.

Get your food photos out of the way before you start eating. Touchscreens and melted butter, Cajun sauces and messy goodness tend to be incompatible.

Our first “dish” arrived within minutes. This place is fast and efficient, and the food comes perfectly prepared every time. Much of it arrives in plastic bags. Yes, the wonderful crab legs are set in the middle of the table sheathed in clear plastic loaded with the sauce of your choice.

You can go with Cajun, lemon pepper, garlic sauce or “The Whole Sha-Bang,” which is a registered trademark in the event someone other than Yo’Mamma wants to use it. After you pick a sauce, you select the level of heat, ranging from “non-spicy” for those who want flavor without much fun, to the absolutely terrifying “XXX” (not a registered trademark). It’s awesome, but mostly, terrifying. And maybe insane. If you can enjoy a sauce made to “XXX”-standards, you have either had your taste buds surgically removed or you are a one serious masochist. The sauce is mixed up in the bag with the crab legs. It’s crazy.

But the white meat inside these crab legs is a beautiful thing – plump, tender and clean-tasting. There is a lot of food, and yes, you have to work for it. You can use tools or just pry open the shells with your hands.

The most challenging is with the Dungeness crab because it’s served as the entire carcass. This crab is in season right now and is delicious. You can get lost in thought as you pursue every nook and cranny for meat and juice. You’ll probably violate dining sounds etiquette, but no one will care, and you’ll be drowned out by slurping and cracking and talking throughout the large, open dining area.

Crawfish are cool, but they can intimidate the less-adventurous eater. Here is a cute little crustacean that looks like more trouble than it’s worth. But, oh, the little pieces of meat inside are so worth it. The full flavor, the tenderness. Irresistible.

Now, if you have spent time in the Deep South, as I did, you may know that hardcore folks will suck on the heads. Yes, there’s flavor there, too. If you do that at The Boiling Crab, no one will think you’re weird.

Beyond the crab offerings, there are several other food options. The chicken tenders basket was the worst of the alternatives – merely decent chicken breaded and deep-fried. The catfish was cooked perfectly. The gumbo with rice was tasty and filling, so be careful if you get that upfront. There’s also corn on the cob, which pairs nicely with crab; three kinds of fries (get the “XXX” seasoning at your peril); lobster, which just seems too fancy for a joint like this; shrimp, clams and mussels.

At the end of the meal, there are broken shells and sauce and balled-up napkins all over the place. When you leave, an employee rolls up the paper with that mess inside and whisks it into a trash can. Then new customers take their seats moments later. If they came to pig out and eat like nobody’s watching, they certainly came to the right place.

Call The Bee’s Blair Anthony Robertson, (916) 321-1099. On Twitter, @Blarob.

The Boiling Crab

6910 65th St., Sacramento

(916) 394-9166

www.theboilingcrab.com

Hours: 3-10 p.m. Monday to Friday; noon-10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Beverage options: Wine and beer license; small selection

Vegetarian friendly: Not recommended

Gluten-free options: Possible

Noise level: Moderate to loud

Ambiance: Lots of sea décor; over-the-top, possibly tongue-in-cheek decorating theme. The room is lively and very casual.

Overall:

Here’s a place that knows what it wants to be and doesn’t try to fool anybody by being fancy or pretentious. The food is solid, the experience is fun, and you will make an incredible mess. What else do you want?

Food

No-nonsense preparations and quality products. The crab was on point and tasted fresh. The sauces are bold and delicious. The “XXX” heat, if you’re up for it, is insanely hot. Besides the crab, the fried catfish, crawfish and gumbo with rice are good bets.

Service

The servers are generally friendly and efficient. That’s about all you’re after.

Value

Big portions and fair prices. Depending how much you eat, expect to pay $25 to $40 per person, before drinks.