By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Jun 19, 2019 at 7:01 PM Photography: Lori Fredrich

Crab It Your Way has officially opened its doors at 823 N. 2nd St., just inside the Chalet at the River.

The restaurant is owned by Devonzell Hollingsworth and Andre Johnson, two long-time friends who felt compelled to bring something new to the Milwaukee dining scene … namely: Louisiana-style fare with a Midwestern twist.

Hollingsworth, the former owner of a jet ski business in Chicago, says the concept for a new kind of crab shack came to him after eating a seafood boil that simply didn’t live up to his expectations.

"I love food. I love eating. And both myself and Andre are food connoisseurs," he says. "So our goal was to give people something new. Crab legs in butter can be found all over the city, but we’re kicking up that concept a notch and introducing dishes that don’t exist anywhere else."

They began by rehabbing a long-vacant property and giving it a fresh, modern look. Walk in and you’ll find a bright, clean space sporting new drywall, flooring, electrical, plumbing and a brand new kitchen. On the food side, the collaborated with Chef Avneel Williams of Chicago’s Smoke’s Island Chicken to pull together the menu they envisioned.

The back of the restaurant includes additional seating, plus a bar that's ready for happy happy hour drinks (starting next week, Monday through Friday from 3 to 6 p.m.), solo dining or after dinner conversations.

There's also a well-appointed private dining room, which can be reserved for parties or gatherings of up to 40 guests.

Let's eat

Simple black tables sit against warm wood floors, the scene of the culinary theater that’s bound to take place.

It all begins with the menu. Starters include options like wet or dry wings in flavors like buffalo, jerk, mojito lime, mango habanero and Kings Creole (six for $7.95/nine for $10.95), crab cakes ($13.95) and fried green tomatoes ($3.99) and continue with options like Kickin’ Corn Coins, deep fried slices of Mexican-style corn on the cob ($4.99).

There’s also shrimp and grits … but not presented as you’d expect. In this case, sauteed shrimp and sausage are cooked in a cream sauce and served atop cheesy grits that have been fried until crisp ($10.95).

The menu also includes salads (habanero garlic shrimp, lobster tail or fried oyster, priced $10-16) and three different po boys: fried or garlic grilled shrimp ($11), fried catfish ($9.95) or fried oysters ($8.95), each served on a garlic hoagie with lettuce, tomato and secret crabby sauce. Fries come alongside.

The fun part

But let’s be honest, you’re really there for the seafood boil.

"The idea of a crab boil in a bag is familiar," says Johnson. "But people have never experienced it with the different sauces and flavors that we offer." And that’s part of the appeal.

  1. Protein: First, you choose your protein: lobster tail (market), snow crab ($20.99 per pound), king crab (market), shrimp ($16 per pound) or crawfish ($13 per pound).
  2. Flavor: Then you decide if you want your seafood seasoned or sauced. Seasonings include mojito lime, mango habanero and Kings Creole. Sauces include Jamaican jerk, Buffalo, creamy alfredo, butter or Crab It house sauce.
  3. Vegetables: From there, you can fill up your bag with any number of additions: sausage (andouille, spicy andouille, chicken andouille, Italian chicken, $4.99), broccoli ($1.50), red potatoes ($2), corn ($1), sweet potatoes ($1.75) or a veggie pack ($4.99).
  4. Heat: Finally, you choose your heat level: original (no heat), mild (some bite), hot (will wake you up) or spicy (something is wrong with you).

What results is a delicious, casual meal that’s delightfully messy, fun to eat and undeniably delicious. Once it's delivered to your table, you'll want to grab a pair of gloves, tie on that plastic bib and get crackin'.

The best part is, it’s completely customizable. Don’t eat seafood? Order sausage, potatoes and corn. Vegetarian? How about broccoli, sweet potatoes and corn? It’s your choice. With a group? Order a few different options for sharing.

"The whole idea is about having fun," says Hollingsworth. "The idea is to bring people together. And once you start eating, you’re gonna have to put down your phone, enjoy some delicious food and engage in great conversation."

You can pair your meal with a beer or any number of creative cocktails from the Crab It bar, including the Blues Martini, a bright blue popsicle-esque cocktail that comes with the drama of a bit of dry ice.

Or share the gigantic Long Island, a classic drink that serves two to three for $18.

"From the minute you sit down… to taking the sip of your first cocktail, you’ll notice a difference in the way we operate. You might not know what it is at first, but it’s part of the experience we’re trying to convey."

Crab It Your Way is open Monday through Thursday 11 am to 10 p.m.; Friday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday noon to 11 p.m. and Sunday from 11 p.m. to 9 p.m.

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Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.