By Nick Argyle, Contributor
As a native Oregonian, I probably have higher seafood standards than most Nebraskans. When you are raised on fresh salmon and other ocean-infused dishes, you learn that not any plate of fish will do. But Joe’s Crab Shack, a national seafood chain that opened an Omaha location near Westroads Mall, has done its research and simulates a coastal crab hangout.
On my first attempt at a table at Joe’s, I was quick to learn of its instant popularity with a 30-minute wait at 4 p.m., which is generally a slow time before dinner for restaurants. There were many open tables, and I couldn’t help but think they either were short of staff or did not prepare an adequate schedule for the popular weeks following their grand opening. On April 2, Joe’s offered free crab for a year for the first 100 in line to tie on a bib and scarf their way through a bucket of crab. Joe’s takes your cell phone number down (in case of a wait) and texts you when your table is ready, allowing waiting guests to explore the mall and other offerings as they wait. This seemed very practical.
Our server was cheerful and helpful. She was knowledgeable about the menu, which was nice to see in a server at a new restaurant. Many times you get the usual, “I’m not really sure what’s good, I just started working here,” but not our girl. She’d done her research and had a plan laid out for us, which we followed.
Her first suggestion was the “Great Balls of Fire” appetizer. Think crab, shrimp, cream and jalapeno hash browns. They were enjoyable and a good warm up to a seafood dinner, but didn’t pack the “fire” that the name does. I would like to see the “Great Balls of Fire” break sweats before the crab comes out, but the jalapeno was not doing the trick. They could also be described as too creamy, but let’s be honest, they were gone in a few minutes.
The next obvious choice was to try one of the recommended “steampots,” pots of steamed shellfish, vegetables and meats. I decided to try the “Joe’s Classic Steampot,” figuring if it bore the Joe’s name it must be worth a try. After the server tied our protective bibs on our chests, an expo brought out an intimidating pot of steamed Dungeness crab, sweet snow crab, boiled shrimp, smoked sausage, corn and potatoes. The taste matched the Maryland smells that wafted throughout the bar and dining room. Be prepared to go to battle with the help of the servers who explain the tools-more like weapons-used to fight your way through the crab legs.
Joe’s has a bar as impressive as its pots of seafood. They boast a “Coronita Rita,” an el Jimador Blanco margarita on the rocks topped with an inverted Coronita, or small Corona. Bartender Brian Oliveri has seen mixed reviews of the margarita, but he personally likes it.
“Some women seem to send them back because the beer taste in the margarita is too overwhelming,” Oliveri said. “I like tequila and I like beer, so I like it.”
C’mon ladies, there is a beer upside down in the glass, of course it’s going to taste like beer. The beer on tap, by the way, was among the tallest and frostiest drafts I’ve had in a while.
Joe’s dropped the ball of selling itself as a Maryland getaway in Omaha when the servers broke out into a flash-dance and song throughout the restaurant. It screamed “chain restaurant” and, to senior philosophy major Drew Carpenter, turned Joe’s into a “corny Red Lobster.” The food was good, Joe’s, now “act like you’ve been there before.”