Not long ago, you would have been hard-pressed to find a Louisiana-style, Low Country or East Coast seafood boil in the Milwaukee area. But as fast casual seafood boil concepts have cropped up across the country in droves, the Cream City wasn't far behind.
In the past two years, numerous new seafood boil restaurants have scuttled onto the scene, offering competition for local concepts like The King Crab Shack, which opened its first location on 27th Street in 2016. Even St. Paul Fish Co. in Mequon has added New England style seafood boils to their regular menu.
Most restaurants offer menus padded with add-ons: po’boys, fried seafood or burgers. But the main attraction is the build-your-own seafood boil which offers customers a choice of seafood, seasoning and level of heat (mild to “I can’t feel my mouth” hot).
To partake, customers gather – often in groups – taking seats at communal tables armed with plastic gloves and protective bibs. Before them lie plastic bags, puffed to the gills with steam. Inside, tender shrimp curl around saucy crawfish. Garlic buttered clams and mussels mingle with bright red crab legs joined by halved red potatoes and corn on the cob (in or out of season).
Seafood crackers open wide, freeing tender meat from crab and lobster claws. Buttery fingers grapple with corn on the cob and potatoes soaked with flavorful sauce. In between slugs of cold beer, diners laugh and exchange small talk before returning to pick the clams from their shells and slurp them down.
And just like that, the casual, communal, messy-as-hell seafood boils – which originated as seasonal outdoor activities on beaches and in backyards – have become the hottest indoor activity in the Midwest.
Ready to get messy?
Head to one of these local spots, each of which offers a distinctive atmosphere and options for saucing up your favorite boiled seafood.
Crab du Jour
9080 N. Green Bay Rd., Brown Deer, (414) 355-5565
4638 S 76th Street, Greenfield, (414) 667-2722
Offerings: soups, salads, burgers and po'boys along with cajun-style seafood boils
11340 W. Burleigh St., Wauwatosa, (414) 312-8291
Offerings: oysters, fried seafood, seafood platters or New Orleans-style seafood boils
The King Crab Shack
3881 S. 27th St, 414-763-0551
1330 E. Brady St, 414-210-4287
5265 N. Port Washington Rd., Glendale, (414) 635-0094
Offerings: fried seafood and seafood boils; Vietnamese dishes also available at the 27th Street location only
5712 W. Capitol Dr., (414) 763-4855
Offerings: seafood baskets, catfish or shrimp sandwiches or seafood boils.
1114 N. Water St., (414) 252-0015
Offerings: fried seafood, sides and Low Country seafood boils.
Red Crab Juicy Seafood
5547 N. Lovers Lane Rd., (414) 429-9574
Offerings: fried seafood, po'boys, Cajun seafood boils
St. Paul Fish Co.
The Cannery, 6200 W. Mequon Rd., (262) 200-9909
Offerings: New England style lobster, crab or mixed seafood boils
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.