Katie Marron stood on the spot that used to be Miss Katie’s Crab Shack, Fitzroy, on the last Sunday of July. “We’re having quite a fire sale!” She called a man, and he walked into Smith Street’s storefront. “If you don’t like the price of something you see, let me know.”
Miss Katie’s closed its doors after nine years. There were many reasons. Marron does not like frozen Crab, and the price of Crab has risen dramatically. Crab boil is not a dish people want or can afford to eat regularly. This is why it is essential to have regulars in your neighborhood. Recently, an international chain called The Boiling Crab opened in the CBD. This is a competition she feels she needs help to weather.
The Boiling Crab is a familiar name to me. Glen Waverley has a location and it is a well-known chain in Los Angeles, where I spent many years. The idea is to have giant bags of steaming shellfish covered in sauce placed on your table. There’s no cutlery. Just a bib, gloves, tools for cutting and cracking, and wet towels to wipe yourself clean. Eating as much shellfish and as little as possible is based on the Louisiana crab boil. You can get chips or a few fried foods, but the primary purpose of your visit is to consume ungodly quantities of Crab and other crustaceans.
The Boiling Crab is not translated to Australia. (Melbourne, Shanghai, and Hong Kong are the only places outside California). The fact that Australia has a different seafood supply makes the idea of a crab boil less common. In many ways, the Boiling Crab symbolizes an American chain that has yet to be successful here. It relies on a style and decor of branding hospitality that seems disingenuous.
“How did they hear about us?” The hostess asked us to enter as soon as possible and with a high-strung enthusiasm bordering on terror. Many televisions covered the walls, with clips of influencers eating at The Boiling Crab.
The extremely poppy server took us to our seats and covered the table with paper. She explained the system. Choose your seafood, your sauce, and your spice level.
We tried everything: crayfish and Moreton Bay bugs, king crab legs and brown Crab, and prawns and king crab legs. We tried different sauces and spices. We wore bibs and gloves. We ordered margaritas ($20), which came in plastic cups. They tasted suspiciously like flat Sprite mixed with tequila.
The crayfish was first ($30 per pound, as it is not measured in pounds) and was then drenched in Cajun sauce, potatoes ($4 each for three), and sausage ($7 each for 15 slices). The meat was soft and tasted very similar to… nothing at all.
The flesh of the king crab legs ($165.34/kg) came out of the shell and formed a sad pile on the paper before me. It is the most expensive food I have ever spent, at $105 for four legs. The Moreton bay bug ($99.12/kg) from Australia was unsurprisingly the best and freshest seafood we tried. However, everything we ate could have been cooked more or of better quality. It was impossible to cook it properly. All of it was contaminated by the sauces that gave it a bland taste. What can I say? My favorite part of the bag of crayfish was the three sad potatoes.
Let me be apparent. I love Crab boils. At the homes of my friends and restaurants, I have made myself a horrible mess by eating a lot of crab boil and then getting all buttery and saucy. I don’t mind getting dirty eating seafood. I love Crab and wish there were more places in Melbourne to enjoy it.
This? It isn’t worth it. It is not worth the cost or the time.
I feel sorry for the staff at this place, who are primarily sweet and young but seem well-timed in all service aspects. Although it is difficult to manage a large operation, this place strives for an atmosphere that allows for the humanity of its staff.
As I handed Miss Katie’s a young lady at the front counter, I thought of her. She was beaming with anxiety in her eyes. The human nature of one owner/operator who sells off her restaurant’s plates, tables, and nautical kitsch. Marron will be the one to benefit from this fine. She plans to open a wine bar within the same space. What does a city lose when small, quirky restaurants can’t keep up? Overcooked and expensive seafood will lead to more wine bars.