SCHENECTADY — The things I learn when researching restaurants usually have to do with history — the building, the place, previous ownership. Drumming Crabs Seafood provided a lesson in biology.
Their cute logo is a smiling red crab behind a full drum kit, drumsticks clutched in his fat claws. A quick and dirty Google search revealed that male fiddler crabs are drummers — they wave their claws and drum on the ground when trying to attract a mate.
Drumming Crabs offers crabs — lots of them. There are snow crabs, Vancouver crab (also called Dungeness), king crab and blue crab, in season. They are available as part of a seafood boil, Cajun style.
Perhaps you are familiar with the protocol, which involves bibs and buckets for spent crab parts. You get a bag filled with the seafood of your choice accompanied by one hard-boiled egg; one red potato, skin on; and a piece of corn on the cob.
You pick the the seafood and the seasoning, such as garlic butter or Old Bay, then the spice level. All components are marinated thus and cooked together.
Amy, a seafood lover, came along for lunch. We drove around the block three times before we figured out how and where to park, and ended up where we hoped not to get towed.
The restaurant on North Broadway is in good company, with neighbors such as Pinhead Susan’s, Centre Street Public House and 20 North Broadway Tavern. I’m almost certain Drumming Crabs is in the same space once occupied by Parisi’s Steakhouse.
The interior is attractive, dim, decorated in sleek gray and black, with small lights glowing on each table. There’s a bar and three big screens on the right, and dining area on the left just beyond the hostess stand. A section in the rear that has a wood floor, perfect for dancing, is an extension of the dining room.
A large, handsome red crab on the wall is illuminated with festive white lights; some life preservers and nautical tchotchkes underline the theme. The pop music, at first bouncy and cute, after an hour became repetitive and irritating.
The chairs and banquettes are cushy and comfortable, which along with the contemporary decor reads fancy, but everything that came after was quite casual. Drinks came in paper takeaway cups; there were styrofoam plates and plastic forks. Each table has a napkin dispenser.
“What image are they trying to present?” asked Amy, looking serious despite her red-lobster, plastic bib. Inconsistent, I decided.
At Drumming Crabs you can choose between lobster tail, sausage, snow crab legs, Vancouver crab, mussels both black and green, scallops, clams, crawfish, or shrimp (head on or off). You pay by weight, one pound minimum. One pound of crawfish, for example, is $13.99. Two lobster tails will set you back $35.99, and King crab legs are $55.99. You can mix and match, or choose one of the combos.
In addition to the seafood meals, there are fried baskets — plastic baskets lined with paper for such meals as fried fish filet ($9.99), fried shrimp ($10.99), oysters ($11.99 for six) and chicken ($8.99 for three tenders). All meals come with Cajun fries.
We passed on starters but the menu offers fresh oysters ($12.99 for six), mozzarella cheese sticks ($9.99) or hush puppies ($7.99).
There was no beer or wine menu or drinks menu, nor were there any bottles displayed behind the bar.
The server was quite friendly and helpful despite her limited English. “Thank you for your patience,” she told us after we’d waited long enough to wonder where the food was, even though we were the only patrons in the restaurant.
Amy ordered Combo E ($24.99), a half pound of snow crab legs and half pound of shrimp. The meal came in a plastic bag ballooned with air, set into a metal pie pan. She’d chosen Cajun seasoning at the medium level.
She started with the crab legs. “A very generous amount,” she observed. They were accompanied by at least eight large shrimp, no head but shell on, one potato, a half an ear of corn on the cob and a hard-boiled egg.
She gamely donned the plastic gloves and went about cracking legs with a metal implement. “A good sensory experience,” she observed, and “wonderful aromas.” The crab meat was delicious, she said, with rich seasoning, tender and sweet.
“I’m having a good time,” she said, getting into the spirit of the messiness. “The shrimp are excellent. The sauce has heat and a sweetness.”
I tried a shrimp. The sauce had enough heat, on the back end, to be interesting, and spices such as paprika, garlic and pepper. It was delicious.
“I need a knife to cut the potato,” said Amy, but made do with the plastic fork. A seafood pick would have been helpful, too, with the crab. She said the potato was cooked just right and she enjoyed the corn.
My chicken wing basket ($9.99 for six) was not nearly so interesting, but the chicken wings had some spice. They were fried without breading and seasoned Cajun style, with lots of black pepper, which I liked. The wings were OK, not anything to write home about, concluded Amy, munching on one.
We both liked the Cajun fries a lot and picked on them throughout the meal.
For dessert we shared Japanese cakes called mochi ($5.99), halved and topped with whipped cream, served on a paper plate. The cute, Oreo-sized cakes were green tea and mango, though we’d ordered a different flavor. “Substitution,” said the server. “Modestly sweet,” said Amy. The cake part is made from glutinous rice and has a chewy texture. These mochi were filled with ice cream.
The tab for both meals came to $57.22 including tax and tip.
It’s a picnic-table experience, for sure, and incongruous with the ambiance of the physical space. But the crab was good, and Amy said it would be fun to go with a group, don the plastic bibs and get into the spirit of messiness.
Drumming Crabs Seafood
WHERE: 13 N. Broadway, Schenectady; (518) 991-0999; drummingcrabs.com
WHEN: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, noon to 10 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $57.22 for both of us, tax and tip included
MORE INFO: All major credit cards. Parking on street. Children’s menu. ADA compliant.