How things change! Back in 1969 when there was still an honest-to-gawd Maryland crab house named Connolly’s on Pratt Street, “Peace, Love & Crabs” might have been indicative of a young counter-culture male who, after a romantic interlude or two, was paying increased attention to his unusually itchy pubes. In 2013, this tag line represents Madison Avenue attempts to fashion a retro-esque pitch line to differentiate a new sea food restaurant chain called “Joe’s Crab Shack” from other chains like “Red Lobster”…
Large neon signs with a “Eat At Joe’s” have a way of getting your interest when you’re driving down Shawan Road on your way to Wegman’s. We were intrigued and checked it out. Inside, Joe’s has a huge dining room with tall ceilings with a mix of booths along the perimeters with tables in the middle. There are lots of lights and decorations that get your attention (it also can get very loud as the place fills up – even more so when the background music is boosted as the servers start doing a coordinated dance in the aisles every now and then!)
The menu is big and splashy too with lots of options (some of them pricey) with emphasis on sea food. There are a dozen appetizers ($9 – $13), a few entree salads ($10-$14), a couple dozen entrees ($13-$23 and that includes a handful of non-seafood options), 5 sandwiches ($10-$12 and they comes with fries or onion straws). Then’s there the flashy “Piece de Resistance”. galvanized wash buckets full of steamed crab, seafood, corn and stuff to eat (the buckets start at around $21 per person and can rapidly escalate depending on your choices and garnishes)
John was lured in a by a Chipolte Crab Cake Caesar Salad ($12) while Marty opted for a Blackened Mahi Sandwich ($12) while our buddy Tom ordered Fish & Chips ($13). John’s had better crab cakes and better Caesar salad but has never come across anyplace that had the daring to try to combine them into one creation. It made for a pleasant meal but wasn’t as flavorful or spicy as the name had suggested (and the crab cake had its share of filler!) Marty’s sandwich was tasty with a big portion of fish (but our guess was that Marty thought that the young man up front at the host station might have been hotter and spicier than his fish!) Tom’s fish & chips was ok but not particularly memorable.
Our young waitress was friendly, bouncy and reasonably attentive. (Unfortunately, we were on our way out the door when the periodic dancing began so we didn’t get to assess how whether she danced as well as she served…)
Overall, Joe’s Crab House was sort of fun, sort of interesting and the food was sort of average (Maybe we might have been more impressed if we had ordered one or two of those galvanized crab buckets but our wallets protested too much for that option) With so many original, non-chain Baltimore crab houses still in business, I think that you’d have to think twice before reconciling yourself to making do with a chain restaurant’s erstwhile imitation of a crab house.
Facts: Joe’s Crab House (Hunt Valley); 50 Shawan Rd (free standing in the big, former Hunt Valley mall parking lot which offers lots of free parking), Full Bar, Very limited Veggie/Vegan options; Open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner