Thursday, July 18, 2024

Gumbo and crawfish at The Boiling Crab in Harvard Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

You can’t find gumbo too easily around this town, so it’s good news that The Boiling Crab is finally open in Harvard Square in the space that used to be the original House of Blues (1992-2003), which served Southern fried food and hosted a weekend gospel brunch before being spun into a concert venue chain.

The California-based chain is as the name implies: a place for shellfish boils where you can gorge on seasoned and steamed bags of clams, shrimp, three kinds of crab, lobster and crawfish. You can get your shells done Cajun style, naked (no sauce or spice) or with lemon pepper, garlic or its own The Whole Sha-Bang! sauce. It’s been a long time since I gnawed on crawdads, and it was tasty and good fun – worth it, no question, but oh the work and the mess. Beside the boils there’s a whole array of fried fish mains as well, including catfish, oysters, shrimp and calamari. The place even has a limited beer bottle selection and a margarita on deck (not bad) to wash it all down.

But back to that gumbo: I’m not sure how authentically Creole it is; I didn’t see too much okra in there. But the rich, dark base was peppery enough to make you pucker, and it’s meaty, with generous chucks of sausage and shrimp. It comes in a small container I could easily have had three of and called it a night. Pro tip: Pay an extra dollar for extra shrimp and sausage. 

The funky, funny staff look like they are having a ball as they work in an unavoidably informal environment: They make cleanup easy by covering tabletops with a plastic picnic cover that later gets balled up and tossed in a rolling trash portal. They give you a bib, and there are limitless napkins at your disposal – but I wished I had Wet-Naps on hand before the check delivery. I’m guessing Boiling Crab won’t get too many Harvard grads coming in cap and gown, but the after celebration could get crabby.

The Boiling Crab (96 Winthrop St., Harvard Square)

Cambridge writer Tom Meek’s reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere.