Baby potatoes, wedges of chorizo and corn-on-the-cob swim in a cloudy bronze pool of butter and spices, capped with boiled South Australian blue swimmer crab. This is Katie Marron’s take on a Southern-style crab boil.
In its American homeland, a crab boil is a social occasion, with huge pots of spiced seafood and trimmings cooked together, then tipped onto a table covered with newspaper from which everyone grabs a feed.
At Miss Katie’s Crab Shack’s new permanent home in Fitzroy, things are slightly more civilised. Slightly.
“It’s about showcasing Australian produce and not mucking around with it too much,” says Marron. Until it’s on the plate, that is, where “mess-making” is encouraged.
Don a plastic bib and grab a pair of claw crackers or a mallet, before using a dainty crab fork to pry out the soft meat and dunk it in the butter. Tip: don’t wear white.
If you don’t like the idea of having to “de-crab” post-meal, there’s a range of other Southern snacks such as fried green tomatoes, prawn-cocktail rolls, soft-shell-crab burgers and fried chicken with waffles. There will be $2 oyster happy hours from 3–6pm every weeknight and bottomless Bloody Marys from 12–3pm on Saturdays.
Marron’s mother’s family is from Maryland, and her seafood recipes come from the pages of a great aunt’s cookbook – Marron has been cooking them with her mother since she was young.
“My mum was always making crab cakes,” she says. “I have that nostalgic memory of smashing up the biscuits for them.”
Marron worked in the kitchens at Movida, The Grand Richmond, and Eau de Vie before North Melbourne’s Public Bar approached her “to do something out of their tiny kitchen” in 2013, she says. She adapted some family recipes, and her take on the crab boil was born.
She’s been gathering knick-knacks for the venue since 2013, including the old fishing nets draped on the walls, and the giant shark’s head, named Dorothy Mantooth, mounted above the pass.
In what must be a hospitality record, Marron signed the lease on what was previously Smith Street Trader in Fitzroy, then renovated and opened in three days.
“The painter finished at midnight the night before we opened,” says Marron, who designed the fit-out herself. “I’ve had this vision in my head for four years of what I wanted the Crab Shack to be and I’ve finally been able to do it.
“We’ve dropped anchor. We won’t be moving again. The Crab Shack has weathered a few shitstorms, and I’m really proud that we’ve lasted.”
And yes, she says, marron will be on the menu soon.
Miss Katie’s Crab Shack
325 Smith Street, Fitzroy
(03) 9995 4903
Tues to Thur 12pm–9pm
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