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Crab City: crab grab

There’s something totally crazy but also very sensual about this.

Pushing the N’Awlins vibe.
Pushing the N’Awlins vibe.

Say what? “You’re pouring the dinner onto the paper table cloth??”

“That’s why we give you plastic gloves,” says Jordan. Then he’s off. And there I am, sitting with my puddle of sauce and potatoes and sausage and corn cobs right on the paper table-covering. Man. I’m still not sure. But nobody around me is sniggering. I guess this is the way.

It’s all happening inside the brand-new Crab City in Barrio Logan. The spot used to be a pizza and burger bar called Dough-Nation. Now, suddenly, it has smart red furniture and a new name. At first, I thought, “This is exciting.” Second thought was, “Uh oh, crab, crawfish, clams, lobsters? This has gotta be way above my pay grade.” But I came in anyway.

Add-ons, like this sausage, corn, potato combo, become the heart of the meal.

First thing I notice is a couple settling in like they know what’s what in all things Cajun — Chris and Rachel. Hmm. I’ll watch them. I go sit up at the bar. Actually, I know it of old, because whenever I’ve passed through on the way home late at night — and that could be quite often — the bar has been here. Dough Nation was usually the only place still open and ready to serve a starving traveler a beer and a slice of pizza. So it’s exciting, but also a little sad, that that nice, friendly bar full of night workers and off-duty cooks is no more.

“Let’s Get Dirty,” says a new red sign outside. I grab a menu to see if there’s anything I can, well, afford. At first, my worst fears pop out at me. Combo #1 is a pound each of shrimp, clams, crawfish and mussels, $59. Add a pound of snow crab and it’s $95. Add a pound of king crab and we’re at $165.

I start wondering how to wiggle out of this. But then I look at the rest of the menu. Appetizers look more doable. A whole bunch of fried items cost $12 each: fish and fries, calamari, shrimp, coconut shrimp, chicken wings. They have a garlic noodle pasta for $8, and it’s also $8 for a bowl of clam chowder. And for $6, a potato fry waffle.

Jordan (Tho) and sister Hang Le. They’re in this venture together.

The rest of the menu is instructions on eating seafoods boiled. You can do this individually: for $16, you get a pound of, say, Manila clams. Then you order your flavoring: Cajun House special flavoring, lemon pepper, garlic butter, or “naked.” Next you choose your spice level, and then — aha! — you can get add-ons. Sausages (8 pieces for $5), boiled and seasoned potatoes (3 for $3). Or a combo of two corn on the cob, two potatoes, and four sausage chunks, all for $6, in an extra spicy bath of sauce.

Sponsored
Sponsored

“The Cajun House sauce is the best,” says the guy, Jordan. Fine. I go for that. And this is when the surprises start, when I get the bowl of clam chowder ($8), plus the $6 combo with the corn, spuds, and sausages in the spicy sauce. Jordan plumps this plastic bag filled with sauce, drifting cobs of corn, sausage and floating spuds, knots it and leaves it on the paper table mat.

“Uh, what do I do with that?”

He looks at me like, “You don’t know?” then says, “You pour it on the paper mat and then you eat it.”

“Uh, huh.” I still hesitate.

Clam chowder, nice and hot, but also helps cool the spices.

“Put the plastic gloves on, and then you grab!”

I mean, I love the idea. And this must be what they do in someplace like New Orleans. Jes’ never seen it before. I take slurps from the clam chowder (it has plenty of clam bits), and wish I’d ordered the garlic bread you can get for $4. Ok, here goes. I thrust my plastic hand out, undo the knot, watch everything flow out onto the table — seriously! — and grab a rolling spud, then a cob of wet spicy corn, and scoop up a hot sausage and slurp a handful of the actual hot spicy liquid licking slowly over the paper cloth. “Let’s Get Dirty,” says the sign. There’s something totally crazy but also very sensual about this, and half of me wants to take off the thin plastic gloves so I feel the real thing, sticky hands be damned. Or maybe lean forward and lick. The biggest surprise is that this tomato and spices gloop is filling, specially with the potatoes and the andouille (I’m guessing) sausage bits. And fire-breath hot! I know, I know — I asked for it.

I get a Vietnamese iced coffee ($6) and that deliciously takes the edge off the heat.

I sit back, exhausted. “You’re Vietnamese. How come you started this Cajun thing?” I ask Jordan (Vietnamese name, Tho).

Visiting Cajuns Rachel and Chris give Crab City the thumbs up.

“Because we already have a Vietnamese place next door and there are only eight Cajun seafood places in all of San Diego County,” he says. Turns out, he made it out of Vietnam only four months ago. “It’s quite a story,” he says. But not tonight. He’s up and busy again.

On my way to the door, I stop off and ask Chris and Rachel what they thought. Because after all, they’re southerners from the New Orleans area. “Well, the shrimp was a little overdone, but the rest — and we had a lot, including crawfish and king crab — was perfect.”

“Perfect,” says Rachel.

This Vietnamese coffee is also perfect. Strong? Oh yes. But why no wine and beer, so good with spicy Cajun food?

“You are right, Cajun food needs beer,” Tho says. “We are waiting for our beer license. Maybe a couple of months.”

Hmm. Couple of months. Enough time for me to learn how to eat with my hands and not leave half the meal on my face.

  • The Place: Crab City, 1985 National Avenue, Suite 1101, Barrio Logan, 619-795-0779
  • Hours: 11am-9pm daily (till 10 pm, Friday, Saturday, Sunday)
  • Prices: Fish and fries, $12; calamari, $12; shrimp, $12; coconut shrimp, $12; chicken wings, $12; garlic noodle pasta, $8; bowl of clam chowder, $8; potato fry waffle, $6; Combo #1, (a pound each of shrimp, clams, crawfish and mussels), $59; add 1lb snow crab, $95; add 1lb king crab, $165; single orders, e.g. pound of Manila clams, $16; add-ons e.g. sausages (8 pieces for $5), potatoes, (3 for $3); combo (two corn on the cob, two potatoes, four sausage chunks), $6
  • Buses: 901, 929
  • Nearest Bus Stops: National and Cesar E. Chavez (901); Main Street and Chavez (929);
  • Trolley: Blue Line
  • Nearest Trolley Stop: Barrio Logan
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Pushing the N’Awlins vibe.
Pushing the N’Awlins vibe.

Say what? “You’re pouring the dinner onto the paper table cloth??”

“That’s why we give you plastic gloves,” says Jordan. Then he’s off. And there I am, sitting with my puddle of sauce and potatoes and sausage and corn cobs right on the paper table-covering. Man. I’m still not sure. But nobody around me is sniggering. I guess this is the way.

It’s all happening inside the brand-new Crab City in Barrio Logan. The spot used to be a pizza and burger bar called Dough-Nation. Now, suddenly, it has smart red furniture and a new name. At first, I thought, “This is exciting.” Second thought was, “Uh oh, crab, crawfish, clams, lobsters? This has gotta be way above my pay grade.” But I came in anyway.

Add-ons, like this sausage, corn, potato combo, become the heart of the meal.

First thing I notice is a couple settling in like they know what’s what in all things Cajun — Chris and Rachel. Hmm. I’ll watch them. I go sit up at the bar. Actually, I know it of old, because whenever I’ve passed through on the way home late at night — and that could be quite often — the bar has been here. Dough Nation was usually the only place still open and ready to serve a starving traveler a beer and a slice of pizza. So it’s exciting, but also a little sad, that that nice, friendly bar full of night workers and off-duty cooks is no more.

“Let’s Get Dirty,” says a new red sign outside. I grab a menu to see if there’s anything I can, well, afford. At first, my worst fears pop out at me. Combo #1 is a pound each of shrimp, clams, crawfish and mussels, $59. Add a pound of snow crab and it’s $95. Add a pound of king crab and we’re at $165.

I start wondering how to wiggle out of this. But then I look at the rest of the menu. Appetizers look more doable. A whole bunch of fried items cost $12 each: fish and fries, calamari, shrimp, coconut shrimp, chicken wings. They have a garlic noodle pasta for $8, and it’s also $8 for a bowl of clam chowder. And for $6, a potato fry waffle.

Jordan (Tho) and sister Hang Le. They’re in this venture together.

The rest of the menu is instructions on eating seafoods boiled. You can do this individually: for $16, you get a pound of, say, Manila clams. Then you order your flavoring: Cajun House special flavoring, lemon pepper, garlic butter, or “naked.” Next you choose your spice level, and then — aha! — you can get add-ons. Sausages (8 pieces for $5), boiled and seasoned potatoes (3 for $3). Or a combo of two corn on the cob, two potatoes, and four sausage chunks, all for $6, in an extra spicy bath of sauce.

Sponsored
Sponsored

“The Cajun House sauce is the best,” says the guy, Jordan. Fine. I go for that. And this is when the surprises start, when I get the bowl of clam chowder ($8), plus the $6 combo with the corn, spuds, and sausages in the spicy sauce. Jordan plumps this plastic bag filled with sauce, drifting cobs of corn, sausage and floating spuds, knots it and leaves it on the paper table mat.

“Uh, what do I do with that?”

He looks at me like, “You don’t know?” then says, “You pour it on the paper mat and then you eat it.”

“Uh, huh.” I still hesitate.

Clam chowder, nice and hot, but also helps cool the spices.

“Put the plastic gloves on, and then you grab!”

I mean, I love the idea. And this must be what they do in someplace like New Orleans. Jes’ never seen it before. I take slurps from the clam chowder (it has plenty of clam bits), and wish I’d ordered the garlic bread you can get for $4. Ok, here goes. I thrust my plastic hand out, undo the knot, watch everything flow out onto the table — seriously! — and grab a rolling spud, then a cob of wet spicy corn, and scoop up a hot sausage and slurp a handful of the actual hot spicy liquid licking slowly over the paper cloth. “Let’s Get Dirty,” says the sign. There’s something totally crazy but also very sensual about this, and half of me wants to take off the thin plastic gloves so I feel the real thing, sticky hands be damned. Or maybe lean forward and lick. The biggest surprise is that this tomato and spices gloop is filling, specially with the potatoes and the andouille (I’m guessing) sausage bits. And fire-breath hot! I know, I know — I asked for it.

I get a Vietnamese iced coffee ($6) and that deliciously takes the edge off the heat.

I sit back, exhausted. “You’re Vietnamese. How come you started this Cajun thing?” I ask Jordan (Vietnamese name, Tho).

Visiting Cajuns Rachel and Chris give Crab City the thumbs up.

“Because we already have a Vietnamese place next door and there are only eight Cajun seafood places in all of San Diego County,” he says. Turns out, he made it out of Vietnam only four months ago. “It’s quite a story,” he says. But not tonight. He’s up and busy again.

On my way to the door, I stop off and ask Chris and Rachel what they thought. Because after all, they’re southerners from the New Orleans area. “Well, the shrimp was a little overdone, but the rest — and we had a lot, including crawfish and king crab — was perfect.”

“Perfect,” says Rachel.

This Vietnamese coffee is also perfect. Strong? Oh yes. But why no wine and beer, so good with spicy Cajun food?

“You are right, Cajun food needs beer,” Tho says. “We are waiting for our beer license. Maybe a couple of months.”

Hmm. Couple of months. Enough time for me to learn how to eat with my hands and not leave half the meal on my face.

  • The Place: Crab City, 1985 National Avenue, Suite 1101, Barrio Logan, 619-795-0779
  • Hours: 11am-9pm daily (till 10 pm, Friday, Saturday, Sunday)
  • Prices: Fish and fries, $12; calamari, $12; shrimp, $12; coconut shrimp, $12; chicken wings, $12; garlic noodle pasta, $8; bowl of clam chowder, $8; potato fry waffle, $6; Combo #1, (a pound each of shrimp, clams, crawfish and mussels), $59; add 1lb snow crab, $95; add 1lb king crab, $165; single orders, e.g. pound of Manila clams, $16; add-ons e.g. sausages (8 pieces for $5), potatoes, (3 for $3); combo (two corn on the cob, two potatoes, four sausage chunks), $6
  • Buses: 901, 929
  • Nearest Bus Stops: National and Cesar E. Chavez (901); Main Street and Chavez (929);
  • Trolley: Blue Line
  • Nearest Trolley Stop: Barrio Logan
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