Carolina Crab Company: A Positively Crustacean Experience
Author: Kitty Bartell | Photographer: John Brackett
The Jackpot at Carolina Crab Co.
Half Maine lobster, crab legs, oysters, shrimp, clams served with kielbasa sausage, corn and red potatoes
There are generational crab restaurants that have forged the very definition of the family-owned crab shack, located near the shore where varieties of crab and other crustaceans offered on the menu have been recently plucked from the sea. The kitchens are manned by descendants of the dynasty from Joey Junior, barely old enough to wrap the utensils and wet-wipes in thin paper napkins, to Joey Senior in the kitchen, submerging mountains of wriggling sea life into massive stock pots of boiling water, and Mama Joey making homemade key lime pie and cookies.
There are newer crab restaurants that have tried to capture the essence of those decades-old, boardwalk experiences, and then there is Carolina Crab Company, Hilton Head Island’s own family-owned crab experience, where you get a peek at the genre, alongside an amazing hit of seafood. However, Carolina Crab Company is not your quintessential crab shack dining experience… and that makes for a very good thing.
A part of the CRAB (Coastal Restaurants and Bars) family of Hilton Head Island restaurants, Carolina Crab Company opened in July of 2014 in Palmetto Bay Marina, with a seacoast vibe, a few carefully draped fishing nets, cozy tables inside and out, and a friendly bar over which hangs lighting made of twisted and frayed ships roping—sophisticated and genius design.
Owned by brothers, Brendan and Thomas Reilley, sons of local restaurant legend and the group’s founding father Tom Reilley, the brothers have taken the crab shack concept to an elevated level, with the inspiration of partner and other brother Keith. Brendan’s wife Jill is credited with much of the upscale crab shack décor and unique lighting.
That’s where we get our casualness from; but we’re definitely not that casual,” Thomas Reilley said. “Our level of service takes us out of the truly casual range.”
Brendan Reilley, Thomas Reilley, Benton Kudlo and Carly DeSimone
“I always try to have the staff provide an experience for the guests,” said Benton Kudlo, general manager of Carolina Crab Company (C3) and long-time CRAB team member. “Our staff members are not just order-takers. They actually interact with the guests, talk with the kids, see how the food is, ask how they heard about us. They find out if the customers are first-timers or they welcome folks back.” For guests unfamiliar with the hands-on approach to enjoying crustaceans of all kinds, table-side assistance (shall we say, schooling) is absolutely available upon request.
“Our staff operates with the idea that the tables they wait on are not just their table, but that every table is our table,” Kudlo said. “Everyone is our guest, and we really do work as a team.” When not serving directly from behind the bar, C3’s bartenders can be found checking on tables, chatting with guests, and making sure everyone is having a first-rate experience.
In addition to outstanding service, what guests will find is that Carolina Crab Company lives up to its moniker: a place where crab is served in the purest and sometimes most inventive ways. Many of their boils and buckets, all served with kielbasa sausage, corn, and red-skin potatoes; feature impressive king crab legs, or southern santolla, Alaskan snow, or Pacific Dungeness crab. “I would say our JJ’s Crab Boil is a favorite,” Reilley said. “It has Dungeness crab, king crab from Argentina, and Alaskan snow crab. It’s kind of a sample trio of all our crab legs.”
Somewhat less hands-on but just as amazingly crabby, C3’s crab cakes are the exact right blend of spice and crab and are served with crispy fried green tomatoes. (Speaking of fried green tomatoes, do not miss the fried green tomato from their Small Bite Menu, topped with C3’s homemade pimento cheese and red pepper jam—delish!)
Chef Jesus DaSantos plates the Fried Green Tomatoes with Pimento Cheese and Red Pepper Jam
Having recently enjoyed one of Chef Jesus DaSantos’s daily specials, an inventive scallop appetizer, his creative and refined palate was evident in the perfectly cooked seafood and richly-flavored mushroom asparagus reduction. Uniquely presented on a sectioned plate where each portion was carefully constructed and served, it was clear that DeSantos gives not only selections from the regular menu his careful touch, but that he excels at putting together daily specials that are surprising, and oh so sumptuous. “We weren’t sure where he would fit best, but we knew how talented Jesus was, so we brought him in; after he worked for a short period of time at Aunt Chilada’s and Reilley’s [two of CRAB’s locales], we knew he was a great fit for C3,” Reilley said.
Seafood of the crustacean variety are the stars of the show with crab, oysters, shrimp, lobster, and clams headlining the Carolina Crab Company menu, with grouper and scallops playing supporting roles, served daily from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Delicious options for those not seafood-inclined include ribeye steak, herb-grilled chicken, Carolina club sandwich, pulled pork, and a cheeseburger sub. The salads are refreshing options, and the richly-flavored soups and desserts are all made in-house.
Their Palmetto Bay Marina location lends perfectly to stopping in by boat and picking up some of Carolina Crab’s travel-friendly offerings. “We have a lot of good things that travel well,” said Lindsy Bentz, CRAB’s director of marketing. “Picking up a big Lowcountry boil or crab boil, those are the things you could pull up, grab to-go, and take out on the boat for an evening sunset cruise.”
The CRAB family of restaurants continues to grow, and Carolina Crab Company is looking forward to their own expansion. They are knocking down a wall, adding about 32 more indoor seats, expanding the kitchen area, and working to increase their guests’ enjoyment of their inviting outside bar and seating area. Just across the water from C3, Brendan Reilley has partnered with local Palmer Simmons in a new CRAB restaurant venture, Fish Camp on Broad Creek, another great boater’s stop, slated to open later this summer next to Broad Creek Marina.
Not your average crab shack experience at the shore, Carolina Crab Company takes it to the next level, offering an amazing crustacean experience and beyond, along with exceptional Lowcountry libations… and that makes for a very good thing, indeed.
Carolina Crab Company is located at 86 Helmsman Way, Palmetto Bay Marina, Hilton Head Island. For more information or directions, please call (843) 842-2016 or visit carolinacrabco.com. For more information about the CRAB family of restaurants, including Reilley’s Grill & Bar, Reilley’s North End Pub, Aunt Chilada’s, The Crazy Crab at Jarvis Creek and Harbour Town, The Boardroom, and Fish Camp on Broad Creek, please visit hiltonheadcrab.com.