I was returning to my booth after a quick trip to the washroom when the owner intercepted me.
"So how was everything," he inquired. "How was the customer service?"
"I think you know," I responded without missing a beat. I directed his attention to our table, which was nearly concealed from view beneath a quagmire of plastic bags, buckets of discarded seafood shells, empty beer cans and wadded-up paper napkins, despite the fact that we had settled our tab 15 minutes prior.
The trending seafood-in-a-bag concept, as demonstrated by the freshly minted Boiler 65 and others like it, offers diners a wildly fun, social and atypical way to enjoy seafood, but the table looks like a bloody massacre when you're done. The quicker the table is bussed, the better for all concerned. But our server never bothered — not after we told her that we were finished eating, not after we requested the check, not after we paid it, and not even after some of us washed up in the restrooms.
The owner did, in fact, know. He reported being stymied by the same lack of willing and able front-of-house staffers that seems to be dogging other operators. Then again, how difficult is it to train servers to, well, serve. Here, let me offer some guidance: bring water when it is requested; explain how the unconventional menu works; automatically deliver seafood crackers, forks and wetnaps with food; and for the love of all that is holy, bus the damn table.
Despite the comically amateurish service (also, in truth, partly because of it), our rowdy foursome still managed to have the time of our lives. This concept is trending — both locally and nationally — because it transforms the typically sober seafood-eating experience into a casual, playful and interactive one. Where else can diners don plastic bibs and tear into head-on shrimp, twist the tails off crawfish, and crack into crab legs without the humiliation of entering a Joe's Crab Shack?
For the uninitiated, Boiler 65 sells seafood by the pound, which gets steamed, tossed in a bag with one's choice of spice mixtures, and delivered to the table in large plastic bags. Tables are clad in flimsy plastic toppers, diners are shielded by plastic bibs (and gloves, if they choose), and go to town on items like head-on shrimp ($15 per pound), headless shrimp ($20 per pound), King crab legs ($38 per pound), snow crab legs ($22 per pound), crawfish ($15 per pound) and mussels ($13 per pound). Add-ons like corn ($3), potatoes ($3) and sausage ($5) are a great idea, but appetizers like fried calamari ($11) and fried catfish nuggets ($9) are superfluous, especially when they arrive 50 minutes after ordering and are delivered alongside your mains.
The Boiler does not offer half-pound options that would allow for better customization, but they do sell a pair of combo bags that mingle shrimp, crawfish and snow crab legs in various weights and measures. We opted for the Bomb Diggity sauce, a fire engine-red, oil-slicked potion with delicious flavor and aggressive, but not oppressive, heat. For the full flame, upshift to Hot or Fire. A preferred — or at least acceptable — technique is to dump the contents of the bag onto the table; hence the informal label for the genre as a "seafood dump." If you attempted that with these bags, you would be swimming in excess sauce and buying new shoes.
The crawfish were tiny but fresh, the snow crab sweet and easy to eat, and the head-on shrimp meaty but occasionally overcooked or soft from age. As the meal progresses, the heat builds, the belly fills, and the mess begins to overtake the landscape. As for that landscape: It's cavernous, but feels a bit empty and unfinished. In fact, a sink in the lady's restroom still had no faucet installed.
There's a cocktail menu with items like Gin and Juice (gin, pineapple and lime), Code 65 (cognac, pineapple, lemon and ginger), and Tokyo drift (vodka, Sprite, blue raspberry and orange). Some cocktails are offered in playful Capri Sun-style pouches, but according to our server, "You pay $3 extra for the bag but don't get more booze." The flipside of that cocktail menu is blank, perhaps an ideal location to list the beer and wine selection so that the servers can stop reciting it.
Seafood-in-a-bag might be informal and entertaining, but it is not inexpensive. The best experiences are facilitated by easy-going servers who keep the cold beer flowing, the napkin dispensers full, and can walk newbies through a concept that is largely foreign to most diners. When Boiler 65 gets to that point, our rowdy foursome will be the first in line.