Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Just Crabby

Rustic Inn
4331 Anglers Ave.
Fort Lauderdale, FL
Visited August 24, 2010

Beer selection: A few interesting Caribbean imports like Kalik and Red Stripe

Food: Garlic crabs.

Some activities in life require the proper attitude to fully enjoy.

The easily offended or noise sensitive probably wouldn’t get much enjoyment out of a Hank Williams, III or a Ted Nugent concert.

Vegans just won’t appreciate the finer points of a good old fashioned Southern pig pickin’.

And Obama bailout recipients who’d rather that I pay their mortgage for them aren’t that keen on manual labor.

Crab picking is one of those activities.

You’ve got to go into this understanding that picking crabs isn’t about sustenance. I’m pretty sure I burn more calories than I take in.

It’s about sitting outside on the water, drinking beer and having fun with friends and family. It’s an event. An experience. Not just a meal.

The best crab shacks on earth – Harris in Maryland, Crab Shack in Georgia, Bubba’s in Virginia, D.I.’s in Louisiana, and my back yard – understand their product well. They serve no frills picnic table fun accompanied by lots and lots of beer.

I’m pretty sure the Rustic Inn understands all this, but they just don’t quite pull it off.

First of all, the atmosphere on the concrete water-front outdoor deck was more auto-repair shop drab than nautical outdoor fun. Under the hum of giant industrial sized fans and the buzz of moth-covered florescent lights, I felt like I was dining in my garage. I guess there was water somewhere near the water-front deck, but I couldn’t see it from my table.

For an atmosphere-dependent experience like crab picking, the evening wasn’t off to the best start.

Unfortunately, the food didn’t pick up the slack.

The Rustic Inn has been a South Florida institution since 1955 and they are famous for their “garlic crabs.”

Done right, garlic crabs are one of the great experiences of life, assuming you like garlic.

I mean, really, really, really LIKE garlic.

Because these blue crabs come in a bowl buried in at least a pound of pureed garlic cloves and melted butter. So much garlic you have to dig down deep into the bowl to excavate your crab claws from the layers of pungent goodness.

Definitely not suit-wearing cuisine. You’ll need a 30 minute shower before you can step foot in public after this meal.

But that’s a good thing. I happen to like garlic.

Here’s the problem.

My crab clusters, once properly extracted from the mountain of garlic like trapped Chilean miners, had the consistency of rubber.

Having steamed a few live blue crabs in my day, I immediately recognized the problem. The crabs were over-cooked.

If you steam or boil crabs too long, you ruin them. The shells get rubbery and the succulent meat inside turns to crab mush. A fun experience of cracking and pulling out complete sections of sweet crab meat becomes a frustrating exercise in tearing away bits of rubbery shell to extract remainders of mushy crab specks hardly worthy of the effort.

That’s just Crab 101.

So how in the world can a “world famous” crab shack, that been cooking crabs for 55 years, screw this up?

I couldn’t figure it out. Could it be that this is just the way they do crabs here at the Rustic Inn? Over-cooked, rubbery, garlic crab mush? Or did I just get a bad bowl? Or was I just feeling crabby?

I’m still not sure. And I’m probably not going to find out. After all, I know where to go for the real crab pickin’ experience. And it ain’t the Rustic Inn.

Rating: Would Wear Shirt if They Paid Me.

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