By: Gerald Kern
In the blistering heat of North Texas, there sits a Creole oasis in Grand Prairie. A town known for family attractions, friendly faces, and affordable places to live. The childhood home of Disney star, Selena Gomez, is now known for home-style Cajun cuisine at Crazee Crab and Oyster Bar.
So, step inside with me and be taken away from a shopping center located at ground zero of a regional economic boom and be transported to a world where you are treated like family and the cooking is spontaneous.
To the right is their wood paneled bar where nobody leaves a stranger. If you are a social butterfly, this is the place to be. There, you will find Peter Phouthavong or Mike Forbes working his mixology magic. The drink sampling actually took me two visits, since I wanted to be sure I could drive within a couple of hours. If you don’t have a designated driver, bring one, because they take a culinary approach to their drinks. These guys know the why, not just the what, of what goes into a perfect drink and how to pair it appropriately with food and mood. With Creole food, I want to drink like I eat, balanced and bold.
If you are out for date night, a good bartender can accelerate the gravitational pull between individuals, strangers, lovers, or both. Let’s say you swiped right on your smartphone and now you are beginning a potentially rough first encounter with someone you should have swiped left. I would recommend swiping straight for their margarita, whether frozen or smooth. If you don’t get hit with immediate brain freeze like me, the bold punch will do it. This is a happy marriage of Don Julio Blanco, Cointreau, fresh squeezed lime juice, and a topper of Grand Marnier. If your date has some annoying traits, the Cointreau over Triple Sec will give your drink additional coping abilities to help you through a rough first date impression.
Let’s say you are with that special someone in your life. I might suggest mop water for the voodoo lady and a hurricane for the Old Spice-wearing kind of man. If you are in a non-traditional relationship, just get them both and swap midway through; you will be equally pleased with both cocktails. If sweet and sour candy is your thing, you are going to absolutely love the mop water. Served chilled, the stem of the glass keeps your body heat from transferring to the cocktail, and the wide bowl allows you to get a whiff of pleasant sweetness before your lips touch the glass. The blend of Grand Marnier, Malibu, Blue Curacao, a splash of pomegranate, and sweet and sour is a strong blend of liquid courage that tastes like a blueberry Jolly Rancher swirling around your taste buds. In no time, your date could be auditioning for Pitch Perfect 3 at the bar with a few of these.
For the guys, I suggest the hurricane. Either Mike or Peter, behind the bar, will serve this in a chilled, sweaty mason jar mug that will be stratified in colors, and require a little stir. His riff on Crazee’s Hurricane is regional. When this hurricane makes landfall on your limbic system, you are going to get hit with an eye wall of not one, not two, but four types of rum: white, dark, brown, and 151. This drink definitely goes #AllRumMatters. This storm is then infused with passion fruit, pineapple, orange juice, and a thin, top layer of grenadine. It is a fun presentation of this Pat O’Brien- inspired Big Easy favorite before one begins the mudbug head sucking fest.
My first appetizer kicks off one of my coastal favorites, gulf coast oysters. Long popular in NOLA and other port cities, I love these any which way, especially on the half shell. At Crazee Crab and Oyster Bar, instead of the commercially available cocktail sauces bought in bulk bladder bags delivered via 18 wheeler, they make their own unique blend. These raw oysters are served cold, plump, and bathed in saltwater perfectly matched to their natural habitat. With a dash of their house sauce, horseradish, and a gentle squeeze of a fresh lemon, the balance is perfection. The MVP attention to detail move is the saltwater bath after shucking, restoring the natural freshness of the bivalve mollusks.
The next oyster appetizer is their take on char-grilled oysters. I’ve sampled other char-grilled oysters from other fine establishments, but this is the first time I’ve had them with cotija cheese. The cotija is a regional Mexican cheese that gives them a hint of salt, but being mild enough that it does not overpower the flavor of the oysters. With butter, the Michoacán rooted cheese perfectly complements these darlings, giving them a crunchy, texturized edge where the cheese cooks in the shell. These charred oysters are served hot and bubbling and are a must for any true oyster aficionado.
I move my attention next to the grits and I’ve got an experienced palate for this universal starch. Grits in the South and rural backwaters of the region, no matter how you serve them, are pleasing to any foodie in their versatility. How do grits get any more gratifying? Hmm, wait, I got it. Use Alaskan king and snow crab stock in place of plain water and light it up with some pepper jack to add to the spicy, buttery flavor. Their talented chefs take 6 ounces of fresh peeled crawfish, sautéed in the Cajun holy trinity, along with a signature blend of seasonings. Grits are among the most underappreciated of all corn derivatives. Their slow cooked style, using their Alaskan and snow crab stock, provides a concentration that gives that light permeation of the ocean in this bayou classic. The pepper jack and crab stock blend takes this Creole comfort food to an unrivaled height. I loved this so much, I ordered a second bowl just to put some of my Alaskan and snow crabmeat with it. Whatever main entrée you order, order a side of grits. They bring a colorful flavor that is delicious on their own or with any protein on the menu.
Although it’s sunny and hot in the Lone Star State, when the sun begins to set, there’s nothing more social to eat than the Crazee Crab and Oyster Bar’s signature crawfish. Creole inspired, they take a proprietary blend of over a dozen seasonings, carefully proportioned, to bring a balanced and bolder flavor not found in a franchise restaurant. One lady next to me, displaced from Katrina, is a weekly regular of several pounds of crawfish and swears to her momma that these are better than anything she had growing up in NOLA. For crawfish boiled to perfection, you want a balanced spicy that brings out the flavor and not overpowers it. This hits that perfection addiction hot button of breaking a sweat and a dopamine buzz that you only want tempered by the cold sweetness of their four rum blended hurricane.
If you want the real deal, off the hook legit Alaskan and snow crab experience, this is it. If there was a Sir Mix A Lot of the crustacean world, these are who he would rap about. If you like them round and big, thick and juicy, then pull up in the turbo ‘Vette and prepare to get it on. When you dip the tender meat in clarified butter, the king crab has a richness in flavor like the Kobe steak of seafloor creatures. The snow crab is also cooked to perfection with a twinge of ocean saltiness. Some place will double cook crab, drying it out while other places will over cook it and the meat sticks in the shell. Cooked flawlessly, the meat will be moist, succulent, and slides right out. This would be the Christian Grey date night meal of pain and pleasure. Expect your skin to get a little nicked up, but when you get corpulent, sweet meat inside, it will all be worth it.
At Crazee Crab and Oyster Bar, I engaged with staff and patrons. Creole cooking is a demonstration of a love to feed and nourish family and friends. It is a way to connect and bond in a deeper, personal way given the hands-on nature of eating and cooking. Proprietor Carol Nguyen and her staff are a true extension of the “Laissez les bons temps roulez” way of life. It is about the passion that comes from boiling and grilling fresh seafood inspired by family recipes handed down by generations in the Crescent City. This passion from the staff and its history can be felt with every plate and bowl you experience.
If you are looking to feed your belly and hungry soul, and you can’t make it to Bourbon Street, then stir it up on the bayou at Crazee Crab and Oyster Bar.