West Hartford’s new seafood restaurant, The Hungry Crab, gives an Asian twist to the seasonings of boiled seafood, and offers an array of other dishes for seafood lovers and landlubbers alike.
By Ronni Newton
It’s highly unlikely that you will be either hungry or crabby after dining at The Hungry Crab, which opened in late July on New Britain Avenue in the Elmwood section of West Hartford.
And while it would definitely be an understatement to say that West Hartford already has a lot of restaurants, The Hungry Crab has found a niche that makes it unique to the town and this part of the state.
The Seafood Boil is the mainstay of the menu, said Manager Jason Chen, who had previously been managing New Haven’s popular Cajun Boiled Seafood. The Hungry Crab’s owner lives in California where he also has several restaurants, and has fused his own Vietnamese and southern U.S. backgrounds to craft the Asian-Cajun style.
Crawfish, as well as crabs, lobster, and shrimp headline the menu, and are among the choices of main dishes for the customized boiled seafood meal. There’s a choice of sauces, including original Cajun, Old Bay, garlic butter, and lemon pepper, as well as the most popular – a special blend that combines them all. Asian spices are incorporated into most of the sauce blends.
Diners can also choose their desired heat level: mild, spicy, or “fire.”
The concept is “seafood in a bag” – and it’s meant to be eaten with the hands. You’ll be given a bib, rubber gloves, and wipes (just in case). The Hungry Crab is a white tablecloth restaurant – white paper tablecloth, that is. Diners compare technique for getting the most meat out of the crab legs, and each table is adorned with a plastic-lined bucket for the parts that don’t get eaten.
“We sell a lot of crawfish,” Chen said, estimating about 300-500 pounds per day. The crawfish comes straight from Louisiana, and is delivered to the West Hartford restaurant six days a week. The blue crabs are from the Baltimore area, the lobster comes from Maine, and the King and Snow crab is delivered from Alaska several times per week.
In addition to the chosen seafood item or items, the bag includes corn on the cob, potatoes, and sausage – all meant to be eaten by hand.
“No forks, no plates, no rules,” said employee Joey Lin.
Grilled seafood is also available, as well as numerous choices of fried seafood baskets that include crabcakes, soft shell crabs, shrimp, oysters, and scallops served with fries.
For those who don’t want seafood, there are also chicken tenders, several varieties of wings, and chicken burger sliders.
Po-boys – crafted from delicately fried crawfish, shrimp, oyster, or chicken – are already a menu staple. All are served with savory Cajun-style potato or sweet potato fries and a choice of clam chowder or gumbo soup.
Entrees start at $8.99 and Po-boys are $11.99-$12.99. Prices for the boiled seafood vary widely, with some items at market price, and there are also an assortment of combo dinners available. Chen estimated that most diners spend from $15-$25 per person, not including alcoholic beverages.
The Hungry Crab serves draft and bottled beer and wine, and also has a full bar. Specialty cocktails include Hurricanes, Bayou Juice, Long Island Ice Tea, and a “Rude Boy” that includes tequila, strawberry puree, and red berry Ciroc.
“We’re doing very well,” Chen said. Waits at dinnertime have been as long as an hour or two. They do not currently take reservations.
Chen said that people had been driving from the Hartford area – or even further north – to Cajun Boiled Seafood in New Haven, so the owner decided West Hartford would be a good spot to expand. “West Hartford has a great restaurant community,” he said.
Although the experience may not be quite as much fun, The Hungry Crab also offers take-out, and Lin said it’s a popular option.
Including the bar area, The Hungry Crab seats about 100. Tables can be moved together to accommodate large groups.
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