The Sunshine State practically invented the laid-back, casual seafood restaurant. So why go to Joe's Seafood Shack when there are so many authentic spots around?
Joe's replaced Brick House Tavern + Tap in March. Both chains — more than 130 Joe's locations and 15 Brick House restaurants — are owned by Houston-based Ignite Restaurant Group. And after dinner at Joe's, after experiencing its food and service, I wouldn't be surprised if Ignite doesn't soon replace Joe's with another of its brands. I understand the company recently bought Romano's Macaroni Grill.
Before I get accused of being an anti-chain snob, I want you to know I'm only opposed to bad chains, especially bad seafood chains in one of the country's best seafood cities. I'm opposed to restaurants that would serve something called the East Coast Platter ($18.79): fish and chips, crab-stuffed shrimp, crab cake and onion strings. The fish was rubbery. The stuffing in the shrimp tasted like a package of powdered dehydrated stuffing. The same goes for the crab cake. And the greasy onion strings would have been a better sandwich condiment than a side dish. Everything was cold.
The only reason I'd found myself at Joe's Seafood Shack in Fort Lauderdale is because every other location is called Joe's Crab Shack. Even the one in Lauderhill. Ignite changed the name "out of respect to a longtime restaurant in the area," according to a press release. That restaurant is the century-old Joe's Stone Crab in Miami Beach.
But let me start at the beginning. When we walked into Joe's, five eager teens were at the door wearing tie-dyed T-shirts printed with the slogan "Peace, love & crabs." You can buy them at the gift shop on your way out. Occasionally, those teens broke into choreographed dance routines, which makes it difficult to complain about the huge gaps in service when your server has just wrapped up a rousing number. Only when we tracked down a manager did service pick up.
The place has a forced cheeriness that only a tourist can appreciate. Servers write double-entendre crab sayings on the paper bibs you wear while eating crabs. Mine said, "Went out for good time and got crabs."
Cuteness abounds. Cocktails are served in mason jars, which guests are encouraged to take home. The plastic crab cracker/shrimp deveiner is imprinted with the words, "Stolen from Joe's Crab Shack."
We started with a Bucket of Shrimp ($12.99 for 18 shrimp), which seemed to be sprinkled with Old Bay Seasoning after cooking. Nowhere on the menu did it say that these are served peel-and-eat style. Crispy calamari ($8.29) were indeed crispy (and overbreaded) and accompanied by the same marinara sauce as the mozzarella sticks ($7.69). Crazy Good Crab Dip ($9.29) may have been the best thing we were served. There were generous amounts of crab in the dip. But like so much of the food here, it was salty.
The salt was particularly strong in king-crab legs ($33.99), which can be ordered one of six ways: barbecued, simply steamed, spicy, fire-grilled, seasoned with Old Bay or garlic herb. We ordered them steamed, and the saltiness probably came from the initial cooking method. All crab is cooked as soon as possible after it's harvested.
Steampots receive their own section of the menu. They're huge pots with a choice of seafood, fresh corn and new potatoes. The KJ Steampot ($25.99), named after its Kendall Jackson sauce, includes snow crab, seared scallops and mussels with garlic, pepper and citrus. The Orleans ($20.99) boasts a pound of crawfish, shrimp and andouille sausage.
Among the nonseafood items we tried were whiskey-smoked ribs ($17.99), which were not only tough, but also seemed to have the hot spots you only get from a microwave. Despite the menu description, no coleslaw appeared on the plate. The hush puppies were raw inside, unlike the overcooked hush puppies that accompanied Chicken Fried Salad ($10.69): mixed greens with bacon, corn, avocado, cheese, mushy chicken tenders and enough dressing for three salads.
You don't want to be asking yourself this question after any restaurant meal, especially when you know you have to go back to the office and write a restaurant review: Who would come here more than once?
Joe's Seafood Shack
1451 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale
Hours: Lunch and dinner daily
Reservations: Only for parties of 10 or more
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Noisy when full
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Highchairs, boosters, menu
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free lotCopyright © 2015, South Florida