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At the Crabman, seafood by the bagful

At the Crabman, seafood by the bagful

The Crabman

The Crabman is at 341 Franklin St. in Buffalo. 

The spaces designated on city records as 341 Franklin St. will be “the former Rue Franklin” until an entire generation of Buffalo restaurant goers fades away. Today, the sign out front says the Crabman.

Inside, Nan Wang and Louis Cui, wife-and-husband operators from China, present a popular dining style not found elsewhere in city limits. The Cajun boil-in-a-bag format posits choices of seafood, usually shellfish, steamed in a bag to retain seafood juices, soaked in spiced butter and served with potatoes, corn and a sense of abandon.

The Crabman

The combo comes with snow crab legs, shrimp, corn on the cob and potatoes in their special house sauce. It arrives steaming hot in a plastic bag inside a metal pail. 

Sure, there are fried seafood options and chicken wings for people who don’t want to put in work just to eat. They’re not who this place is for though, and vegans and vegetarians face slim pickings.

Lovers of snow crab clusters, king crab, Dungeness crab, lobster, shrimp, crawfish, clams and mussels are the main audience here. The Crabman is the only restaurant in town I know of offering live Dungeness crab ($35).

Pick your assortment, pick your flavor, pick your heat level, and you’re off. A pound of garlic butter shrimp ($18) had fat thumb-sized crustaceans, soaked in lightly garlicky savory sauce, along with potatoes and corn on the cob, like all boils do. (It is $6 extra for sausage, sliced, gently smoked kielbasa-ish links.)

The assortment arrives in doubled plastic bags. You can roll them down and go to town, or ask for a plate.

The Crabman seafood restaurant

The combo comes with snow crab legs, shrimp, corn on the cob and potatoes in their special house sauce. It arrives steaming hot in a plastic bag inside a metal pail. 

A lobster tail, and a pound each of snow crab and clams came to $50. We got the Boiling Special Sauce, a combination of the three main flavors: Cajun, lemon-pepper and garlic. The flavor was lively without obscuring the fragrance of the seafood.

Medium spice is a tickle of heat. “Spicy,” three out of four notches on the Crabman heat meter, was how I ordered my pound of shrimp and pound of snow crab, with sausage ($46). I dove in with both hands, and in no time at all was happily reminding myself not to wipe the sweat off my brow because it would sting. The sauciness quotient makes more sense if you ask for steamed rice ($1.50) or garlic bread ($3).

The Crabman seafood restaurant

The fried calamari basket comes with fries. 

Fried offerings come with french fries and include calamari ($12), made from a squid steak cut into strips, not the rings-and-tentacles normal in Mediterranean-influenced settings. It was tender enough, not vulcanized, in its fine-grained golden coat. Fried fish ($12) was tilapia on this evening, a filet in a decently light, crispy jacket.

The Crabman

This is the Crabman's fried tilapia basket. 

Fine-grained crab cakes ($13) came out muffin-bottom-shaped and bronzed, like they had been molded and deep-fried.

A tidy little list of bottled beer and wine is available, concentrated in mass market flavors.

If you’re looking for a date meal, Cajun boil-in-a-bag is an excellent choice to separate the comers from the goers. There are people who would argue that a meal naturally messy enough to come with a set of plastic gloves isn’t the caliber of sophisticated fare equal to the occasion.

Au contraire, mon ami: watching someone untwist that bag, extract a crab leg, and crack the code of shellfish extraction without spritzing themselves liberally with garlic butter will tell you more about their core values than any online dating quiz. Especially about their anger management skills.

Or their level of seafood sophistication. Unless you were born within an hour’s drive of a bayou, or have no other crustaceans readily at hand, who orders crawfish a second time? It’s like the liberal arts Ph.D. of seafood: years of work for not enough to live on.

There are two things about eating seafood at the Crabman that distinguish it from its competitors. The first is the quality of the seafood, noticeably plumper than competitors.

The Crabman

The Crabman is at 341 Franklin St. in Buffalo, home of the former Rue Franklin. 

The other is the setting. Whatever else the Rue Franklin space once was, it remains a handsome place to enjoy a meal with friends, especially the courtyard behind the building, surrounded by curtains of leaves. It’s not as glorious as when the Rue had a staff gardener, but what is these days? If you’re the sort to complain about that, it’s probably best to find other accommodations.

Yes, it is a smidge galling to see life preservers and plastic lobsters affixed to walls that once overlooked squab, pike mousse quenelles and the most delicate spring vinaigrettes.

But the space is alive. There, your correspondent can report with relish, people are making the most they can of the time they have to appreciate this fragile thing we call life.

RESTAURANT REVIEW

The Crabman

Location: 341 Franklin St. (322-6001, thecrabman.weebly.com)

Hours: 4 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 4 to 10 p.m. Friday, 2 to 10 p.m. Saturday, 2 to 9 p.m. Sunday.

Prices: appetizers $4-$12, fried seafood plates $11-$13, seafood with butter and spices $12-$117.

Atmosphere: spacious and serene.

Parking: street, do not park next door.

Wheelchair accessible: no

Gluten-free options: seafood boils

Send restaurant tips to agalarneau@buffnews.com and follow @BuffaloFood on Instagram and Twitter.

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