Photography Disclaimer: If you have a low tolerance for lousy phone food photography, avert your eyes after the section about Joseph’s Grill. This post is chock-full of bad phone photos. Pinky-orange crab, yellow-tinted whites, neon cocktails + a blurry, self-gratuitous selfie all bathed in the jarring lighting at Joe’s Crab Shack. I wanted to keep Martha Steward on her toes. Frankly, perfection bores me. If you feel the same way about food blogs, then this post is for you.
How does one describe my mother-in-law?
Well, for one thing, she really likes themes. Like, really, really likes themes. Theme parties have become such a normal part of Jake’s existence, that he hardly bats an eye at her newest schemes. He smiles as he recollects a childhood of flower parties, color parties, first or last initial parties, and happy pumpkin parties.
On the other hand, my family didn’t give much thought to themes. They took it as far as asking me what I wanted on my birthday cake and possibly finding matching invitations, but no further. It’s no wonder that themes kind of frighten me.
We returned to the Twin Cities last weekend to celebrate Jake’s dad’s big 60th birthday and the theme was “Joe” since his hame is Joe. When I first caught wind of the themed weekend my mother-in-law hatched, I experienced a wave of anxiety. We were supposed to eat at three Twin Cities restaurants with the word “Joe” in their name, all on one day.
The restaurants chosen were Joseph’s Grill, Joe Senser’s, and Joe’s Crab Shack. Until this day, I had never visited any of these places.
We convened at Joseph’s Grill Saturday morning. Dreading two more Joe’s stops later that day, I kept it simple with poached eggs and a virgin Bloody Mary. Jake ordered the Greek Florentine Omelet filled with lamb, feta, tomato, onions, spinach and topped with tzatziki sauce. I’m sure it’s no surprise his entrée was more exciting than mine and, so I kept stealing bites of his lamb. If you go to Joseph’s, try something with lamb.
All in all, everyone was satisfied with their first Joe meals. Our server was friendly and served with finesse, portions were large and we were full.
My mother-in-law broached lunch at Joe Senser’s on the drive home and nobody bit. “What about if we just stop there for appetizers before dinner,” she asked? We groaned and arrived at the group consensus to strike on less “Joe restaurant” from the itinerary.
And then there was Joe’s Crab Shack. My first thought was that Joe’s Crab Shack looks like a space ship. Or at least, something can could be seen from space.
The interior of the restaurant is as festive as the exterior. Bright lights, tropical stuff mounted on the walls and even an in-store gift shop.
Joe’s Crab Shack doesn’t waste time with napkins. Each table receives a big roll of paper towels. I was in the restroom when our server introduced himself and reacted with confusion when I noticed the roll. “Who the hell is Andrew and why is his name written on a paper towel?” I asked, before it dawned on me.
Because we were celebrating a special occasion, one of Jake’s brothers treated us to a variety of appetizers. My favorite items were the crispy hush puppies which arrived in a metal bucket along with ranch dressing. It can’t be hip to enjoy ranch as much as I do.
And then there were the drinks. A few people ordered the Category 5 Hurricane, a cocktail with a disclaimer. The menu states that each customer may only order two which is a good rule because the drink’s not only goblet sized, but strong. Plus, there’s no telling what might happen if a drunken brawl erupted at Joe’s. There are just too many mason jars and pointy marlin fish on the walls for anyone to be safe.
On the other hand, my margarita was weak. I know this to be true because I am the epitome of a lightweight and if I can’t feel a cocktail it’s weaksauce.
Those of us who ordered crab experienced a moment of surprise when servers approached our table to tie paper bibs around our necks. Mine said Hottest Legs Around. I could not complain because at least it wasn’t decorated with an STD joke. The rest of the bibs said things too ridiculous to mention here (nod to Marilyn Hagerty with my use of the word ridiculous).
“Help,” scream my eyes.
Of course Jake and I ordered crab at Joe’s Crab Shack. We split a Classic Steampot for two.
I was delighted that our steampot contained two, separate, perfectly symmetrical mesh bags because it meant we wouldn’t have to fight over halfies. Each contained two queen crab leg clusters, a handful of shrimp, one ear of corn, halved red potatoes, and a sausage.
Customers can choose from six different flavor options for steamed seafood, but we kept it simple with Old Bay. If you want drawn butter with your crab, you have to request it. Joe’s serves it in small plastic cups that cool quickly into solid masses. I did not let this slow me down.
Jake ate slowly and avoided the “filler” items, hoping I’d leave him some crab. He waited in vain as I ate every single thing in my bag.
The crab legs weren’t particular meaty, but tasted fresh enough, unlike crab legs I’ve ordered at similar (and nicer) establishments that reeked of ammonia. I assumed the sausage would be a bland filler, but found it to have a pleasant snap and flavorful spicing.
And then my father-in-law turned into a bird.
Chain restaurant birthday rituals are their own strange bird. They always seem to involve things like balloons, marching in single file lines, clapping, and singing and this was no exception. Joe’s took the restaurant birthday thing one step further by dressing Joe up as a bird with a styrofoam beak and wings and encouraging him to flap around the dining room. I don’t know if my memory of this incidient is hazy from too many sips of Jake’s Hurricane or a possible retreat into my happy place, but I have this picture so it must have happened.
My father-in-law was a great sport.
Joe wasn’t the only birthday boy in the shack. Shortly after, staff led another birthday charge. While they didn’t give the next birthday boy the royal bird treatment, they showered him with a procession of singing and clapping. A birthday celebration at Joe’s Crab Shack is perfect for those who want everyone to know it’s their birthday or tolerate mild form of public humiliation. Everyone else will want to die.
At the end of the evening, Joe declared that this was his favorite birthday of all time.
The zany restaurant crawl was not made in vain and we could feel confident our dirty-joke bibs were worn with honor. The weekend served its purpose to celebrate Joe and launch him into his 61st year surrounded by family. Someone else’s birthday is never really about us, anyway.
Is Joe’s Crab Shack for everyone? Probably not. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a darn good time.