by Steven Doyle
After a short wait you are approached table-side by a perky member of the waitstaff who scribbles their name on the white butcher paper clad table and asks for your favorite beverage. There is plenty to choose from at Shell Shack, now with locations spread across Dallas and Fort Worth, no doubt with more on the way. We order, we drink. Then the decision time arrives, what to order from this seemingly vast menu.
Without a doubt, crab is to be on the short list of what to order. But it is nearing crawfish season, and even though we are told they are not the largest we will find, those are coming once the weather stabilizes and they are large enough now to enjoy. There are no conspiracies to keep large crawfish from the mitts of Dallasites as your Houston friends might try to tell you. Shell Shack procures the best graded crawfish available. Think mid-March, around St. Pat’s Day for the best crop. Consider that the luck of the Irish.
crab tater tots
The crab choices are legitimate. Our favorite, the meaty and easy to pluck Dungeness is on the menu, along with snow, king and one we are only vaguely familiar with, a Bearing Sea delight called Bairdi. Consider the latter a cross between snow and king crab. It is certainly less costly than the large king with a delicate sweet flavor and the looks of snow crab. It is a bargain, and only found at Shell Shack in Dallas. Owner Dallas Hale procured about 30,000 pounds of the legs to feed his restaurants and you.
Before you order crab there are other considerations. Appetizers are strong with Shell Shack. Buffalo Shrimp are an excellent choice. Large, meaty shrimp are fried and given the Buffalo treatment. You may order fried shrimp sans sauce too. They also have grilled, but not on the menu currently. Ask, and if they can make them be sure to order a plate for the table. This is currently a chalkboard special, and there are a few of those. Consider these menu items in training. If we like them, they will make the next iteration of menus.
You will also find some superior Gulf oysters. These are the large versions you are used to, but Shell Shack goes the extra step to ensure safety by buying appellations.
Crab filled tater tots? Hell yes. Wings? Maybe. They are good here. For sure the calamari, they are large as well, and we do enjoy the tentacles which are a rare find these days. Squeamish calamari eaters. These are terrific, and have their own set of spices. A large mound will feed a family of four, or a couple of hungry chaps on a seafood bender.
Then it comes time for crab.
Once you select your crab of choice you will need to decide how it will be sauced when steamed. And believe me, no sauce is perfectly fine if you care for butter on the side, or spicy sauces for that matter. We go with a few pounds of each of the crab with a medium spiced ‘kitchen sink’ which basically includes all the spices in the kitchen tossed together is a buttery roux. The crabs are sauced, bagged and steamed.
When brought to your table the shellfish are at their peak temperatures and ready to enjoy. They are quickly poured out onto your table top and the rally begins. If you are sharing, there is no room for niceties other than to brag about a long, unbroken mass of leg meat that can be dangled in front of your tablemates before wolfing down, ready for another successful moment.
Prices for both crab and shrimp are market driven and the prices are marked on the restaurant-wide chalkboard, along with specials if there are any that day.
You will also find perfectly delicious catfish filets. There is also a burger on the menu for those family members who are not on the prowl for seafood. We understand it is quite tasty. We have only seen this burger and it appears legit. Not sure we would order this with all the crab bandied about, but someone in your crowd will surely enjoy the option.
If you haven’t figure this out, we are fans of Shell Shack. We know there are choices for your steamed crab dollars, but find this one to be perfectly amiable. Consistency is the game at Shell Shack. Rich, buttery, spicy consistency.