It’s a crab house dressed as a sports bar, and its servers would do well to put on another garment or two.
At the new Shell Shack, poignantly located in the former Olenjack’s Grille in Arlington’s Lincoln Square, seafood comes by the bag, with little pomp and less circumstance, in a crazy-loud dining area that used to serve up some of the area’s best shrimp and grits.
Did I mention I miss Olenjack’s?
Yet, a recent visit to check in on the new tenant found the venue in capable hands, steaming and spicing king, Dungeness and snow crab, as well as crawfish and shrimp, with a casual, almost respectful efficiency.
It’s no surprise the Arlington entry is part of a chain, with one in Uptown Dallas — which opened about 2 1/2 years ago— another in Plano, and one in Mesquite just about ready to be shucked (that’s seafood-restaurant speak for “opened”).
It’s the kind of place where your amiable server writes her name down on the butcher-paper tablecloth and espouses the tastiness of Bairdi snow crab — sweeter and more delicate than king crab — but when quizzed, can’t recall where it comes from. (For the record, that would be the Bering Sea.)
Owner Dallas Hale, who oversees all of the restaurants with a partner and is eyeing Fort Worth and Houston locations, ordered between 20,000 and 30,000 pounds of the rare crab this season, once he heard last summer that its availability had increased.
It’s certainly worth checking out. Currently $24.95 for 1.25 pounds, the serving is more than enough for two people, especially if you opt to add red potatoes ($1.95 extra) and corn ($.75 extra) to the mix, all of which cascades out of a plastic bag and onto your circular tray.
Indeed, after recent restaurant run-ins with boatloads of spice, we were chastened and ordered the crab “hot” (other options are mild, medium and Diablo) and chose “Kitchen Sink” for our spice mixture (a combo of Cajun, garlic and lemon pepper seasoning).
The result is — at minimum — a 75-napkin experience, with the thick and tolerably spicy sauce nestling in every corner of the multi-appendaged sea creature. The crab was mild yet stood up well to the heavy sauce. (You can order the shellfish “Uptown style,” meaning de-shelled, for an additional fee.)
An even better bet is the Buffalo shrimp ($12.95), eight meaty nuggets that had the look of chicken wings, save for their shape. The “hot” sauce paired well with the chewy texture, and the fries on the side were thick-cut, salty and did not suffer from adjacent sauce-soakage.
The fried calamari ($8.95) was an attractive oblong dish of tentacles and rings, topped with a jalapeño relish. Tartar and cocktail sauces (we asked for both) were a welcome yin and yang to the spicy, unevenly breaded but rustically appealing pieces.
Lighter, and less messy, options are on the small menu, from a couple of salads — a wedge ($9.95) and a Caesar ($7.75) — to a grilled chicken sandwich ($8.95).
Desserts are mostly house-made and wisely included a couple of cold options, like the gelato trio ($6.99), which entailed small scoops of chocolate hazelnut, sea-salted caramel and raspberry sorbet, tucked inside profiteroles. The pastry, doughy and without a crust, provided a cute presentation but the gelato was the standout: It was surprisingly flavorful — especially the raspberry.
Between the restrooms is a high-dollar automatic hand-washing facility. Thrust your “Kitchen Sink”-coated hands into two vestibules and water will spray fast and furiously over them.
It’s a cool contraption, but if you’re so concerned with being immaculately clean, you might be missing the point of a place like Shell Shack.