We approached Crabby Oddwaters with a degree of caution, given its name.
In its favor was its double-whammy of a location: the restaurant is perched above a local seafood market called Bill’s (which supplies the restaurant with its fresh fish) in a building at the edge of a small “oddwater” inlet in Sunset Beach, near Calabash, NC. Sunset Beach is a rare vestige of what the area once was — a low-key summer refuge for area folk, devoid of chain restaurants and tourist attractions.
A visit earlier in the week to Bill’s Seafood yielded exceedingly fresh local shrimp that we took home and sauteed in butter. Bill’s is a laid-back kind of place, with minimal provisions for supper (and plenty of beer). Our bill for the shrimp was scribbled on the back of a stub torn from a cigarette carton.
Dinner two nights later at Crabby Oddwaters did not disappoint. Outside, you climb a flight of wooden stairs to reach the restaurant, and enter the wood-paneled bar area, where on this particular night NASCAR was on the TV. A step down leads you to the dining room, a long rectangular space suspended over the water. One entire wall of the dining area is floor-to-ceiling windows. During dinner, we watched a blue heron slowly hunt his own fresh fish dinner.
Our waiter, a friendly young man home from college on Easter break, brought us complimentary hush puppies to start. I have spent my life as what Michael Stern would probably call a “hush puppy frowner.” I’d never met one I liked until this particular evening. These hush puppies were perfectly fried, crisp on the outside, moist on the inside, with a nice, subtle onion flavor to them.
As an appetizer, we shared fried firecracker shrimp, a special that night that took simple, brittle-crusted fried shrimp and tossed it with a Sriracha-spiked mayo. It was spicy, creamy and, best of all, bursting with the clean flavor of fresh shrimp.
Next we ordered one of Oddwater’s steamed buckets, a low-sided metal bucket over a foot in diameter, packed with a classic low-country boil. Ours had fresh mussels, local clams, oysters and shrimp, along with roasted potatoes, corn and some exceedingly juicy Carolina sausage with a crisp, charred crust and an inside so tender it was like pork pudding. The shellfish in particular were succulent, the clams bursting with briny juiciness. The whole concoction had been steamed in a mixture of garlic, white wine, and butter. Other bucket options include all clams, all oysters (local), all local blue crabs, and the “Hellacious Barge” which is packed with snow crab, local blue crab, clams, oysters, shrimp, and mussels.
For contrast, we also ordered grilled grouper, served with a nice rice pilaf and some simple sauteed vegetables. While the fish could not possibly compete with the decadence of the seafood bucket, the grouper was fresh, flavorful, and perfectly cooked — crisp on top, and tender, flaky, and moist on the inside.
Crabby Oddwaters menu is fairly extensive for a seafood joint — there are pastas and salads, plus options for the landlubber, like steak and burgers. But steamed buckets are quite obviously the star attraction here.