Alex Zhao, a new Augusta resident from New York and who most recently lived in Atlanta, grew up in the restaurant business. He’s knows a thing or two about the industry, having helped his parents since he was a child.
When he came to Augusta, however, Alex decided he wanted to give the area something it didn’t have: A sit-down restaurant with a casual vibe that served Creole-inspired seafood. He has succeeded admirably in The Juicy Crab, which has been open since the middle of February in a prime location next to The Country Club on Washington Road.
“I wanted it to be a laid-back, family oriented restaurant with a bar where families can bring their kids and friends, and couples can come to have dinner out,” he said. “A place to spend quality time with friends and family.”
The interior of the restaurant is definitely conducive to conversation among friends. Decorated in natural wood tones accented with nautical touches and dark furniture, it is inviting without being stuffy. Despite only being open a couple of months, much of the wood on the walls and booths has already been tagged with writing from past guests, which only serves to emphasize the anything goes atmosphere of the airy, two-room restaurant.
Then there’s the food. The Juicy Crab is actually a chain that started in Jacksonville, Florida, so it’s no surprise that seafood is its main focus. Open for lunch and dinner, the menu includes items like calamari, raw and steamed oysters and chicken wings for appetizers and a variety of fried seafood and sides. The real focus, though, is on steamed seafood and low-country boils.
And while The Juicy Crab serves this dish in the traditional manner, it does so with a twist.
“Actually, we made it so you can pick what kind of seafood you want in your low-country boil,” Alex explained. “We have mussels, crawfish, snow crab legs and shrimp. We even have lobster tails and king crab legs if you want to do something different. We’re all about choices.”
The low-country boil comes with a half pound of whatever seafood you choose, then you decide on your seasonings and spice level. The restaurant offers Cajun, lemon pepper and garlic butter seasoning, or you can get the Juicy Special, a combination of the three. The special is definitely the way to go, and the medium spice level I chose on a recent visit (choices from mild to extra hot are available) left a pleasant warmth in my mouth after my lunch was over, but not so much that it was overpowering.
Low-country boils are available at lunch with one seafood choice. Turn the menu over to the other side, however, and you can get a combo with two or more items. I chose the traditional shrimp with the addition of green mussels. Both were excellent: fresh, meaty and, in the case of the shrimp, easy to peel. A side of hush puppies were the perfect complement: not too sweet, fried just right, and great for dipping into the generous amount of “juice” left over from the main dish.
According to Alex, the lunch and dinner menus differ in only a couple of ways.
“Our lunch menu offers a smaller selection, but the prices are a little bit cheaper,” he said. “The amount is not as much as on the dinner menu, but people can still get a healthy serving of seafood for lunch.”
In addition to the food, The Juicy Crab’s bar also adds to its casual hangout mood. Offering a great selection of sangrias, martinis and signature cocktails (the Juicy Punch, with vodka, strawberry puree, lemonade, OJ and Sprite, sounds like the perfect summer accompaniment to a spicy low-country boil), The Juicy Crab just this week began a happy hour that runs 3-7 p.m. on weekdays and all day on Sundays. During those times, diners can indulge in $2 beers, $4 cocktails and $5 appetizers, as well as other specials.
All these elements combined make The Juicy Crab a unique dining experience in the Augusta area, which is exactly what Alex Zhao envisioned when he opened it.
“I think it’s different from most restaurants out there. It’s something special, something you don’t see around every corner,” he said. “We cater to a specific group — people seeking something different — and I think we’re doing pretty well.”