No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you as you approach the main entrance to Colleyville’s Craft and Crab Seafood House. Yes, that really is a sawed-off rowboat, oars dangling by its side, moored on a sandbar, surrounded by several crab traps filled with toy crabs.
This whimsical exterior design, leading to a restaurant entry shaped like a ship’s prow, sets an unequivocal aquatic tone of what the restaurant trade likes to term the “seafood concept” of Craft and Crab.
Opened seven weeks ago, Craft and Crab is the first seafood-centric eatery to join the jauntily named Drunken Donkey local chain, where “scratch-made” cooking combines with craft brews in an energetic gastropub atmosphere.
Some of that same philosophy prevails at Craft and Crab. For its 10,000-square-foot space, with a spacious outdoor patio overlooking a playground area catering to adults (bean-bag tosses and Jenga) and kids (tugboat-shaped slides and monkey bars), Craft and Crab is clearly tilting toward the family-friendly market.
And they’ve gone fishing to do it. The wide-ranging menu offers pretty much every sea creature imaginable, from crab and shrimp, to conch and oyster, lobster, redfish, grouper and salmon. “Land lovers” are not ignored, as there is a varied selection of dishes featuring chicken and an honest Cowboy burger.
Beer aficionados will cotton to the suds served here: The restaurant offers 150 craft beers, including such local favorites as Revolver’s Sidewinder and Panther Island’s Cannonball.
The kitchen at Craft and Crab is mostly successful at fusing three disparate styles: East Coast seafood classics, Creole-inflected spicing popular in Gulf Coast crab boils, and the Caribbean influence breezing through the restaurant with such bar offerings as the coconut margarita or a banana cream-rum mai tai.
As a starter, the crab cake balls ($11) did their best homage to a traditional Maryland crab cake, touched with Old Bay seasoning. They seemed destined for plunging in a Creole-style remoulade sauce, all propelled by pinches of celery salt, cayenne and paprika.
With a slight nip in the October air, a little cup of clam chowder ($6) was just the warming remedy. Small bits of clam competed for my taste buds’ attention with potato, celery, bay leaf and thyme.
The next sea creatures to swim to my table were gargantuan — as in only 14 to a pound — Gulf “shrimp thingies” ($9). Enrobed in bacon and filled with a blend of mozzarella, cheddar and pepperjack cheeses before being fried, these plump shrimp starters only enabled my lifelong addiction to perfectly cooked shrimp.
The lone finned creatures sampled were the nuggets of fried redfish ($11.50). They made for perfectly respectable, if not adventurous, eating, as their greaseless preparation actually made the light, Cajun-spiced breading more of a standout than the rather bland interior fish.
The fish easily yielded center stage to its accompanying side dishes of crab corn ($7), a congenial marriage of pepper-kindled Texas skillet corn with the East Coast decadence of cream cheese. Meanwhile, dirty rice ($5) took me down to Cajun country with its andouille sausage-laced sauce enveloping such staple ingredients as red onion, green pepper and celery.
But the meal’s unsurpassed seafood expression was the half-pound, boiled Dungeness crab ($13.99). Ceremoniously dumped on my paper tablecloth, the crab soon launched me into a primal seafood frenzy. Wielding metal pliers, I foraged, poked and pried at the abundant, succulent meat. The crab’s complex flavor came from a full-day baptism in a stockpot filled with such crab-boil standards as paprika, cayenne, lemon coriander, juniper and dried Turkish bay leaves. Whenever the crab listed toward dryness, a quick spurt from a charred half-lemon provided its acidic revival.
Between the pineapple upside-down cake ($7) and the sea salt-caramel cheesecake ($6), the cheesecake was easily the more satisfying dessert, with its contrast of cookie-crust bottom, lusciously creamy interior and brittle, salt-tinged caramel roof.
That both desserts were the only sampled items not made in-house only underscores just how seriously this restaurant takes its unspoken mission of serving all of its seafood items as if they were freshly caught that morning. To its credit, even though Craft and Crab is landlocked, it still creates a tasty illusion of fine dock-side dining.