The vibe was more Key West than Patchogue: faux palm trees at the entrance, brightly painted ceramic and papier-mache tropical fish on the walls and Jimmy Buffett tunes on the sound system. Harbor Crab Co. was hopping, even on a weeknight, when we waited half an hour for a table on the floating deck overlooking an inlet of the Patchogue River.

It was dusk when we began eating. A short distance away, a double-decker LIRR train rolled past on an overpass; the deck shook briefly. A server came by offering insect repellent. We refused, but after a few swats, requested a spray bottle. One of the restaurant's owners brought it over, staying to chat a while.

"What's the she crab soup like?" we asked.

"It's creamy," he said. "A bisque. I'll bring you a sample."

That sample turned out to be a sweet and briny bowlful whose consistency was satiny, much lighter than a bisque. Another suggestion of his, crab cakes, didn't fare so well. They were crisp on the outside with a nice flavor, but the interior texture mimicked mashed potatoes. A surprise hit was the restaurant's signature appetizer of seafood "skins": potato shells filled with a melange of creamed shrimp, scallops and crab meat, topped with melted Cheddar -- one of those rare dishes that taste lots better than it sounds.

It was during a long lull between courses that we felt a few fine droplets of water. "It's nothing," our waitress said. Minutes later, we -- along with everyone else on the deck -- bolted indoors, barely escaping a downpour.

From our table near a bamboo wall, we admired the clever tropical decorations around us. We were happy with what was on our plates, as well. My husband's Southwest-style fried catfish was crisp, greaseless, deftly spiced. I was pleased with a shrimp platter consisting of large shellfish sauteed, New Orleans style, with tasso ham, celery, garlic and lemon in an herbal wine sauce. Best of all was a dish called Harbor seafood supreme, a spirited saute of shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams and crab meat in a garlicky lemon white-wine sauce over al dente bow-tie pasta.

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Our waitress confessed that none of the desserts had been made on premises. Her favorite, she said, was a slab of Junior's cheesecake. It was simple and satisfying, a fitting conclusion to a pleasurable evening. --Joan Reminick (8/29/07)

If you want to dock and dine, there are 10 slips and no dockage fee at Buoy 34 in the Patchogue River.