The crab-off brewing on Miami Gardens Drive ended before it began. We decided to check out two dueling crab restaurants -- Tali's Crab Shack and Capt. Crab's Takeaway -- but when it came to the crab, it wasn't much of a contest.
It was obvious why after the first step inside Tali's Crab Shack. There it was, right out in the open; a stainless steel microwave. The crew took no shame in pulling pre-cooked crab out of a refrigerated case and reheating it for a couple of minutes. Don't worry about taking a number, you'll know your food is ready when you hear the beep.
Nikolai and Vitalij Sokol opened the takeaway joint just west of 37th Avenue in April 2012. The couple sold off three similarly named restaurants in Jacksonville and took a year off before moving to Miami.
A glut of crab shacks in north Florida prompted them to "come down and introduce Miami to how garlic crab needs to be cooked," said Nikolai, who goes by Nick for short.
About a mile away, near 47th Avenue is Capt. Crab's Takeaway. It's been a Miami Gardens mainstay for more than a decade. At lunch the drive-through line wrapped around the grey, Tudor-style building.
The focus at both was obviously crab, but not Stone Crab or the buffet-favorite Snow or King varieties. It's Blue Crab. Alive they have brown-green shells and claws that all turn blue toward the tips. The crabs are caught up and down the east coast, and are especially abundant in the northeast, off the coast of northern Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. Standard preparation is simple: Crab, garlic, parsley, something spicy and maybe butter.
Both restaurants pride themselves on their garlic blues, but Capt. Crab's was the clear choice. At least they had the good sense to hide their microwave.
Eating blue crab, like most shellfish, is as much about playing with your food as it is eating. The good stuff lies at the joints where the legs meet the body. More of it is in the claws, which can be enjoyed after being wrapped in a napkin and crushed with the meaty bottom of your fist. The crabs at both restaurants were cleaned, split and boiled. That was where the similarities ended.
At Tali's a variety of crab - Blue, Dungeness, Golden and Snow crabs - were laid out in the case ready to be nuked. Sokol said they'll soon have King Crab. An order of blues ($13.99) was quickly tossed in a bright red, overly salty Cajun spice mix and handed over. The crab meat was stringy and dry. The salt left fingers swollen, with rings looking more like pinches in linked sausage.
At Capt. Crabs things were far different. The crabs in a one-pound order ($11.49) were larger and meatier, as were the claws. The whole place smelled faintly like the bubbling water where crabs boiled. After a meal don't forget to pick chunks of fresh garlic and flecks of parsley from your teeth.
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However, both restaurants were on equal footing when it comes to sides. Tali's shell-on shrimps are meaty and fresh. Their split hardboiled eggs paired well with salty crab. Capt. Crab's parsley potato salad was like the one you find at a barbecue, but without the mayonnaise. The fried conch stuck a good balance of chewy and tender.
Skip the variety and the microwaved stuff. Wait five extra minutes and get your fresh steamed garlic blues down the street.
For more follow Zach on Twitter @ZachIsWeird.