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Bite of the Week: Custom Seafood Boil at Columbia’s Crafty Crab

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$32 (with blue crab, snow crab leg cluster and shrimp). 700 Gervais St., Suite C. craftycrabrestaurant.com.

Growing up, crab was a dish reserved for special occasions — or supermarket deals too good for my mother to resist.

I have fond memories of her breaking the shells to reveal the sweet, flaky meat for the three kids, before we learned how to use the crackers for ourselves. Then there’s the dunking in melted butter. She would set out ramekins over a candle and heat it until it melted and all of us would slather the meat in it, finding the combination of crab and the creamy, silky coating irresistible.

This was before I was ever aware of what a seafood boil was, but I knew I loved it. Crab became the closest thing to a delicacy for us. When it was served, we all dutifully stayed at the table throughout the meal. No quick bites to return to TV or video games.

It also felt adventurous. We grew up in rural South Dakota, where the most eclectic food was the pungent, Nordic lutefisk (served in huge quantities in church basements) or fresh-caught crappie and walleye cooked whole when neighbors would give away their bounty from expeditions to the local lake.

When I went to college, I had my first run in with seafood boil, of the crawfish variety, put on by the agricultural fraternity. My shining memory is ingesting a pepper of some variety that nearly knocked me out, the burn too strong to handle. The frat “mom” tended to me with some laughter. It wasn’t the best introduction.

I was perhaps naively unprepared for the advent of crab-land when I moved to Columbia a little more than a year ago. There’s at least 11 crab-boil-focused or offering eateries in the area, with a handful opening (and some closing) in the last year, per an internet search.

On a Wednesday night, I elected to try out the latest such eatery, Crafty Crab, next to Tsunami in the Vista. I received a mixture of blue crabs, snow crab clusters and shrimp. The trio was slathered in a branded Crafty Cajun seasoning and buttery garlic, and a few knobs of corn and potatoes were thrown in for good measure.

The boil was satisfactory, but something of a mixed bag. Most disappointing was the small blue crabs, with spare meat on them. In between good and mediocre was the shrimp, which offered great flavor in the heavy sauce mixture, but were overcooked and tough. Most pleasant and enjoyable was the snow crab, which, upon breaking, was quite delicate and came closest to mirroring the sweet flavors I appreciate most.

In a nice surprise, the most stable and enjoyable parts of the mixture were the corn and potatoes. Not hidden inside a tough shell, the flavors of the sauce doused both and made for an indulgent treat that dripped onto my Crafty Crab-branded plastic bib.

David Clarey joined Free Times in November 2019 as a food and news writer. He's constantly fighting competing desires to try cooking food at home and spending his entire paycheck on Columbia restaurants.

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