One of our goals is to bring awareness to restaurants that are off the beaten path. Outback Crab Shack is the definition of that. It is well known to Jacksonville locals and boaters as it is located on Six Mile Creek and features a huge dock for those arriving via water to tie up and stay awhile. It’s easy to forget that this restaurant is still in St Augustine as it is so far inland but it shouldn’t be overlooked when in need of fresh seafood and a beautiful view. Don’t miss the turnoff into their parking lot. The tiny gravel entrance is easy to pass by but is located right before the bridge over Six Mile Creek.
Address: 8155 CR 13 North, St Augustine, FL 32092
Website and menu: http://outbackcrabshack.com/
We arrived a little before our dining companions so we took a walk down the dock behind the restaurant. The view is stunning. It is everything that is beautiful about the wild Florida that lies outside of all Florida cities. The dock is surrounded by spanish moss hanging from the trees and thick reeds that you can hear rustle and move with fish and probably some alligators and manatees too. It’s easy to see why this is a boater’s destination. The dock allows plenty of room for boats and is in great condition to make for an easy walk before or after dinner. Keep your eyes open, there is plenty of Florida wildlife to be seen if you pay attention. This unique feature makes it a perfect restaurant to take out of town guests to show them what our beautiful state is made from.
By the time we finished our walk the rest of our party had arrived. The restaurant was slow that evening so we were allowed to pick the table we wanted. Fair warning: this restaurant is completely open so air conditioning is not a featured part of dinner. We parked ourselves at the table with the most fans directed at us and it was fairly comfortable. Our waiter arrived quickly to take our drink orders and appetizer. He came back quickly with our drinks and also with plates of cocktail sauce and tartar sauce. Small but insignificant pet peeve: I ordered half unsweet half sweet tea and it still came out painfully sweet. That may have been a blessing in disguise though to help calm the spice from our order. If you like intensely sweet “southern style” tea then you will be in heaven with their blend.
To start, we got The Shack Sampler ($16.95) that includes smoked fish dip, conch fritters, and gator tail. Outback Crab Shack does not skimp on portion sizes, four of us shared this appetizer and we each had plenty. Frying gator tail always renders it a little chewy which is just to be expected with that preparation method. The batter was seasoned well and it was fried to perfect golden brown. The conch fritters I honestly didn’t realize were conch, I thought they were hush puppies. This can be good for people who are picky eaters, I promise they won’t realize what it is. However it was a little disappointing that the flavor of the conch really wasn’t there. The smoked fish dip was the highlight of the appetizer tray. It has a perfect smoky flavor to it with lots of mayo to keep it creamy. It had a light peppery flavor. We scraped the plate clean of the fish dip, it was a winner.
We ordered our entree while we were eating our appetizers. Outback Crab Shack specializes in massive shareable platters that can be ordered in whole, half, or single size. The guide on the menu states “whole” serves 4 people, “half” serves 2, and single is obviously for one. Once size is determined, preparation process is next. Steamed, fried, grilled, or barbecued seafood made for a difficult choice, but we decided to tackle the whole Steamer Platter ($69.95). Once we ordered, the platter came out extremely quickly. With it came a big tray of melted butter which is the correct portion size in which melted butter should always arrive in. Gotta love butter!
The Steamer Platter was stacked high with shrimp, clams, snow crab legs, crawfish, mussels, smoked sausage, broccoli, corn on the cob, potatoes, and mushrooms and was smothered in what tasted like Old Bay but is called “seaside seasoning” on the menu. Even after each of us had our turn stacking our plates with food it still appeared that we had not made a dent in the platter. We were provided with plastic crab leg crackers (I’m sure there is a real name for those things) but no tiny forks which did make excavating the crab meat a little difficult although worth it. The crab was tender and perfectly steamed and was even better doused in the aforementioned butter. There were four large clusters of crab legs so everyone at the table got their own. Beneath that, we got to the layer of crawfish and shrimp. Crawfish is way out of season so I wasn’t expecting it to be fresh, which is fine. It was still well prepared and only a few were difficult to peel. The shrimp absorbed lots of the seaside seasoning during the steaming process and were mildly spicy and delicious. Beneath that layer we got to the steamed veggies which were all very tender except the broccoli. Broccoli is a difficult vegetable to get perfectly steamed and this was no exception. It was still in an awkward state between raw and cooked which made it a little difficult to chew. The final layer was the most rewarding. The bottom of the platter was stacked with smoked sausage, mussels, and clams. I think three times during the meal I said “these mussels shouldn’t be this good!”. They stood up to mussels at most high end restaurants I’ve ordered them from and had no fishy taste to them whatsoever. The clams were the same-expertly cooked and also lacked the fishy taste apparent when the seafood isn’t as fresh as it should be. Sadly clams and mussels get dismissed by a lot of people because they’ve had them poorly cooked which makes them chewy and tough. Outback Crab Shack does it absolutely right and is a place to set a standard by for well cooked shellfish.
By the time we had made it halfway through the platter the seaside seasoning was starting to numb our faces a little and the leftover fish dip from the appetizer helped to calm down the burn. Expert tip: have something to drink or eat to alternate with once you get through the shrimp and crawfish. Between the four of us, we still only made it through about ¾ of the platter and we eat for a living. It’s safe to say that this platter could more realistically feed 5-6 people especially if an appetizer is ordered. For $69.95 that breaks down to an easy $17.50 a person which is one of the best meal deals in town for the quantity and quality of seafood served.
Outback Crab Shack delivers high quality seafood in copious quantities in a no frills environment. It’s also ideal for large parties as most of their food is made in shareable portions. Service is attentive but casual, the atmosphere is a little hot but manageable, and the food is consistent. That doesn’t even factor in the gorgeous views that are included in the meal. It’s worth a trip inland from the beach or south from Jacksonville to enjoy this hidden gem.