“We really want a chill, laid back type of atmosphere here,”says Chris Yee, owner of the new Rockin’Crawfish restaurant.
The new southern seafood spot and sports bar opened only three weeks ago, and already it’s amassing a dedicated group of regulars looking for a relaxed spot to grab some tasty soul food. There is good reason for this following, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some kinks that still need working out.
Most of the food at Rockin’Crawfish comes by the pound and is surprisingly customizable. A pound (or two, or three) of their crawfish, king crab, clams, and others, come with a choice of sauces —lemon pepper, garlic butter, or a “rockin’ combo” of the two —and spiciness level, ranging from original to volcano. The price of these by the pound foods varies based on the market, so it’s worth asking a waiter before ordering multiple pounds of one thing so you’re not hit with sticker shock at the end of the meal.
On a recent lunch hour I opted for a pound of the crawfish in the garlic butter sauce with medium spiciness. The ordering was easy and swift, but I soon found that a meal at Rockin’ Crawfish is a waiting game.
I began to really survey my surroundings as I waited for my meal. The walls, booths, chairs, and even an old phone booth are covered in graffiti from diners past. Among the names, twitter handles, and professions of love scribbled in marker, a general ambiance emerged of a frat party gone to a southern restaurant. Yee says that’s intentional.
“It sets the mood,” the owner says. “We want our customers to come in and feel comfortable to do what they want.”
It works. Rockin’Crawfish feels relaxed and accessible. As the minutes ticket by (five, ten, fifteen), and my meal still hadn’t come out, I began to get well acquainted with the diversity of graffiti around the restaurant. Among the huge TVs blaring sports games, kitschy stoplights, and Top 40’s music in the background, everything kind of came together.
The wait for the food continued. The wait staff must have been aware of this unusually long wait, because they kept making the rounds in tandem to make sure that all of the customers were doing all right. If anyone needed more paper towels, bibs, wet wipes, or gloves —the staff had it covered. But at a certain point it began to feel like an episode of the “Twilight Zone” – one waiter after another making their way down the restaurant. They were accommodating, to be sure, but it was a little less than relaxing.
At last, the pound of crawfish came, and I immediately understood the need for all of the accouterment handed out by the wait staff. The small southern crustaceans came in a big plastic bag placed in a black plastic serving dish, and that’s all I was presented with.
I put on my bib, grabbed a handful of paper towels, and dove in. The aroma of spicy garlic and sweet butter was consuming as I reached in for one little creature after another, popping off the tails and getting the meat within. My hands were soon covered in spicy, buttery, red sauce.
The crawfish was perfectly cooked, and the sauce was the perfect addition. I understand why they wanted to take their time getting everything just right, though it doesn’t exactly make up for the long wait.
Rockin’Crawfish is a great place for a tasty southern meal, and once they find their rhythm I’m sure that their timing will get better. If you don’t mind getting in on the ground floor of an early operation, a meal there is easy to enjoy —and it sounds like there are already many customers doing just that.
“We’ve only been open three weeks, and we’ve had people coming back multiple times a week already,” Yee says. “We know we’re doing something right.”
2300 El Portal Avenue, San Pablo
Monday - Friday: 2 pm to 10:30 pm
Saturday - Sunday: 1 pm to 10:30 pm
View their Yelp page here
Photo: Cormier's Catering