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Blue Crab Standard Time

Take your time when eating Gulf blue crabs

Dinner at Stingaree begins with a bowl of creamy coleslaw, which is served as a starter course. They go through quite a bit of the stuff, so it's always nice and crunchy. We also had an order of delicious but incendiary New Orleans-style barbecued shrimp. The peel-and-eat shrimp are tender, but you have to resist the impulse to lick your fingers in order to avoid overdosing on the spicy coating.

Islandgirl orders the charbroiled red snapper fillet, a stunningly simple piece of fresh fish that arrives a little black on the edges and extremely moist in the middle. She finishes her snapper while I'm still on my third crab. She starts to get bored watching me eat, so she excuses herself somewhere around crab no. 7 and goes outside to watch the sunset with the crew on the deck. This is fine with me. While she sits there eyeballing me, I feel pressured to hurry up and eat.

The slow pace is why Gulf Coast crab shacks and restaurants that specialize in barbecued crabs are becoming rare, Stingaree's owner George Vratis tells me on the phone a week later. "Crab shacks are going the way of the drive-in theater," he says. "Because neither one is a very good way to utilize the space." Modern corporations look at restaurant tables as real estate. You make money by renting them out, and the shorter the stay, the more money you can make. An all-you-can-eat crab customer is going to squat at a table for an average of 90 minutes, Vratis explains. A 50-minute turnover is the average in a dinner house. Which is why the chain version of the concept, Joe's Crab Shack, gives you only four crabs for $10.95, he says. Stingaree customers hang around a long time.

Something in the water: Set against East Galveston Bay, Stingaree invites leisurely dining, which is how blue crabs should be consumed.
Deron Neblett
Something in the water: Set against East Galveston Bay, Stingaree invites leisurely dining, which is how blue crabs should be consumed.

Location Info

Map

Stingaree Restaurant & Bar

1295 Stingaree
Port Bolivar, TX 77650

Category: Restaurant > Seafood

Region: Outside Houston

Details

409-684-2731. Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Barbecued shrimp: $9.95
Bosco's barbecued crabs, Vieno's fried crabs, or seasoned boiled crabs (regular order): $10.95; (large order): $13.95; (all you can eat): $18.95
Charbroiled red snapper fillet: $13.95

1295 Stingaree Road, Crystal Beach (Bolivar Peninsula)

"But I don't care. As long as you enjoy my crabs, you can stay all night," says Vratis. Some of his favorite customers are old-time crab lovers who will sit at a table for hours and eat 20 or 30 crabs.

I wish Phil could have been here to cheer me on. I know I could have made the big leagues. But islandgirl needs to get back to Houston, and I am getting a little bored smashing crabs by myself. Besides, my thumb is bleeding from where I accidentally stabbed it with one of the needle-sharp little points under a claw. (This maintains a personal record: I have never eaten crabs without bleeding.) So I reluctantly call it quits after consuming 14 in an hour and 20 minutes.

Not very impressive, really. Next time, I promise to do better.

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