At any moment, dance music will get pumping, a disco ball will start to twirl and all the servers in the house will go into a choreographed routine. Feel free to put down your crab cracker and join them. For it's a perpetual party at Joe's Crab Shack, where the scene, more than the food, is the main attraction. Here, the decor is wacky-beachy, the din deafening and the wait for a table often more than an hour.
Best to try snagging a reservation in advance -- or else call en route for priority seating. If forced to bide your time, a souvenir stand can sell you the same Peace, Love & Crabs tie-dye T-shirt worn by the cheery crew.
Once at your table, you'll find both a roll of paper towels and a bucket. Get as messy as you like, you'll be told. Your server also will point out a nearby sink for quick cleanups.
In the tradition of themed chain restaurants, Joe's turns out killer margaritas. And strawberry peach sangrias. (Order either in a Mason jar, and you can take home a clean and empty one.) For starters, the classic appetizer sampler features nachos with an addictive '70s-style crab dip as well as "great balls of fire," fried creamy seafood balls neither great nor fiery. Best item on the plate: crisp yet tender calamari. Also recommended: a bucket of shrimp, steamed in their shells with Old Bay seasoning. You'll be needing those paper towels.
Messy, as well, is the classic steam pot holding Dungeness crab, snow crab, shrimp, sausage, potatoes and corn, everything overpowered by a broth made with garlic butter and Old Bay seasoning. There's a greater comfort factor in the shrimp with Cheddar and andouille grits; too bad the accompanying biscuit is cold and leaden. Blackened redfish is mild and moist, although the "dirty" rice it comes with is made with traditional bits of chicken liver and tastes bitter. And lump crabcakes, while crab-intense, are wincingly salty.
Mysteriously, the crabcake at a subsequent lunch tastes decidedly better. Fish and chips star slabs of flaky haddock fried to a greaseless crunch. And there's a fine blackened mahi mahi sandwich, the firm, moist fish steak smoky and just spicy enough.
Bypass the astringent and cloying Key lime pie and opt, instead, for the warm homestyle peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream. And, if your head isn't splitting as yet, work off the calories on the dance floor.