Fiery Crab opened its first location in March 2018 in Lafayette, and in just about a year, the seafood restaurant opened a second location on Siegen Lane in Baton Rouge.
Third and fourth restaurants quickly followed in Lake Charles and Rock Hill, South Carolina. And more are set to come: New Orleans, Shreveport, Houston and Beaumont, Texas, with another Baton Rouge location planned to open in August at CitiPlace.
I'd like to say I'm impressed by the restaurant's ambitions. But based on the roller coaster ride of letdowns Fiery Crab took me on, it's going to be interesting to see what happens.
Fiery Crab — which has the tagline "juicy seafood restaurant and bar" (juicy?) — specializes in low-country boil, a cooking style found more often along the Atlantic Coast in Georgia and the Carolinas. The style isn't dramatically different from what you'd find in Louisiana, except for some slight seasoning changes and that the varieties of shellfish are usually boiled together.
My photographer friend Minh Kiet and I recently visited the Fiery Crab for dinner. It's a large space, built out with wooden walls in an effect that's reminiscent of a dock on a Gulf Shores, Alabama, beach. A long side room features a large bar with plenty of TVs, and there's a covered patio for outdoor seating.
To buy us some time while we looked over the menu, we ordered the hush puppies (10 for $4) and the fried cheese sticks (six for $5), a recommendation from our waiter. The two baskets of fried foods came out quickly. The hush puppies were small and dense, dark in color and rather plain. They were decent enough but nothing really special. Similarly, the fried cheese sticks were pretty generic if not underwhelming and chewy.
Fiery Crab's menu is a case for not skimping on hiring a good designer — it's only two sides, but the jumble of fonts, poor color choices and random design elements make it almost impossible to keep track of what's going on.
The seafood boil is Fiery Crab's obvious bread and butter, and ordering what you want shouldn't be a complicated process — pick your seafood, choose a seasoning and select a spiciness level. But the menu makes it tough to understand what exactly you're getting.
Once we figured out how it all worked, Kiet and I crossed our fingers and each ordered a boil. Kiet went for the Dungeness crab ($30 each) and three pounds of crawfish (market price), seasoned with garlic butter and with a mild heat level. I chose a half-pound of snow crab legs ($12) and half-pound of shrimp ($10) with the fiery Cajun seasoning and medium spiciness.
My platter was the high point of our meals at Fiery Crab. The crab legs were meaty, the shrimp were plump, and the sausage, corn and potatoes broke up the meal well. The fiery Cajun seasoning is what you'd expect from a normal Louisiana boil, and the medium heat level was just enough to break a sweat.
On the other side of the table, Kiet was less satisfied. His Dungeness crab came out great, covered in garlic and steaming. But the crawfish were chewy and stuck to the shell — a sign it wasn't totally fresh before it went into the boil.
We left skeptical of Fiery Crab but decided to give it another shot. Along with the boil, the menu has several po-boys, seafood baskets and other items. We wanted to see how other dishes fared.
We probably should have saved our time.
During our first meal, Kiet (who is Vietnamese American) noticed some subtle Asian influences on the menu, so when we met again for a Saturday lunch, we started with an order of crab rangoons (eight for $6) and crawfish fried rice ($8 for a small; $13 for a large).
Like the hush puppies and fried cheese sticks, the crab rangoons weren't anything special — more cream cheese than crab — but standard if you've ever been to a Chinese buffet. The crawfish fried rice was another letdown: more chewy crawfish and fried rice that Kiet suspected to have been mass made earlier in the day.
For our mains, we ordered the fried shrimp po-boy ($10) and the fried seafood plate ($19), which comes with oysters, shrimp and catfish. Things went downhill quickly.
I'm almost angry about this po-boy: a tough piece of French bread with a smattering of scrawny, overcooked shrimp and slathered in a horror combination of spicy mayo, ranch dressing and ketchup. I forced a couple of bites, but I was turned off for the rest of the meal.
Things seemed off with Kiet's plate, too. The oysters were fishy, the catfish was soft and all around things seemed poorly battered and undercooked.
We should have called it quits, but hoping for one more shot at Fiery Crab redemption, we ordered the beignets ($5). The dense balls of fried dough that came out were covered in what looked like an odd glaze — at least that's what we puzzled over at first. It was just powdered sugar that had combined with the dripping grease of the dough.
A few days later, Kiet summed up Fiery Crab pretty well: "It's buffet-quality food disguised as a full-service restaurant."
Maybe that's the method to Fiery Crab's mad expansion — cut some corners on freshness, cast a wide net with a menu mostly of fillers and maybe do one or two things well.
What a letdown.
6900 Siegen Lane, Suite D
11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday through Sunday
(225) 300-4455; fierycrab.com
Pros: Decent seafood boil, depending on what you order
Cons: Everything else