Hot Plate

Number One Males
Barbecued crabs, those splendid Texas Gulf Coast perversities, usually entail a trip to the raffish Bolivar Peninsula, where they're a civic dish of sorts. But lately, giant Gulf hard-shells given the unlikely but delicious Texas barbecue treatment can be had as an off-the-menu special at the Magnolia Bar & Grill, which is far more convenient than a trip to Crystal Beach.

Rubbed down with a cayenne-lemon-and-celery-salted seasoning mix, these 5 1/2-inch-and-up "Number One Males," as they are called in official crab lingo, are then plunged, batterless, into the deep frier. Seems like a strange damn way to treat a crab. But the boiling oil flash-steams the crab inside its shell, leaving the meat sweet and moist, and turning the spice rub into a faintly granular brown crust that is saltily addictive. You crack the crab claws, pick out the sweet body meat, make a powerfully satisfying mess. "Those look great!" uttered a 50-something gentleman longingly as he leaned over a wooden balustrade, the better to see our growing heap of shattered crab shells. "They are," we assured him smugly.

While you're at it, the Magnolia has a couple of other specials that are well worth checking out. Blackening is not the dirty word here that it turns out to be at too many pseudo-Cajun spots; the owners, who were part of the original Don's and Willie G's team, turn out a brightly seasoned blackened tuna (ask for it on the rare side) in which the exterior pyrotechnics do not overwhelm the fish. With it comes an unusually attractive pasta: fettucine tossed with fresh, barely sauteed spinach, fresh tomato wedges, asparagus, garlic and a brothlike brown sauce that minds its manners without wussing out.

Or ask for the unlisted blackened rainbow trout stuffed with a seductive oyster dressing that involves sherry, breadcrumbs and plump, whole bivalves. The pleasant tomato-basil sauce that comes as standard equipment with this trout is an irrelevant distraction -- order the fish plain and you will be well rewarded.

With its vintage-look lumber, sepia-toned Louisiana photomurals and massive, eccentric bar, the Magnolia looks ever more real as the make-believe glow of the Richmond Avenue Bar World proliferates out its back door. These days, the Magnolia folks have been catching the nightlife wave with live music and tented crawfish boils on the wooden deck, but the not-so-fast-and-cool set who have fond memories of the restaurant's gumbos and crawfish bisques will be happy to discover there's still some serious food behind that party-time tent.

-- Alison Cook

Magnolia Bar & Grill, 6000 Richmond, 781-6207


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