As consumers enter the first few days of fall, restaurants are helping them maintain their grasp on the festive communal meals of the waning warmer weather.
Communal food gatherings are a staple of warmer weather, from Maine clambakes to Louisiana crawfish boils and from Hawaiian pig roasts to Wisconsin fish boils, but restaurants are offering mini-vacations nearly in customers’ backyards.
Joe’s Crab Shack, a division of Houston-based Ignite Restaurant Group, has expanded its line of signature Steampots. “Summer travel season may be winding down,” Joe’s Crab Shack said in debuting new Steampot offerings, “but the new menu items at Joe’s Crab Shack offer a taste of the exotic.”
The new offerings, with prices that vary at Joe’s Crab Shack's 130 locations, include the Santolla Steampot, which contains Antarctic king (Santolla) crab, clams, shrimp, New Zealand green lip mussels and smoked sausage in a spicy garlic wine sauce with Old Bay Seasoning. Also new is the Arctic Bay Steampot, which has queen crab, shrimp, a split lobster and sausage, all steamed in a garlic broth and topped with Old Bay Seasoning.
“We want to bring Joe’s guests on a culinary adventure when they dine with us,” said George Atsangbe, Ignite’s culinary director. “With these new menu items, customers can sample the exotic flavors of faraway oceans.”
The communal meals are popular, especially in coastal areas. In Door County, Wis., for example, what used to be church-based whitefish boils have turned into a summertime event-and-food draw for tourists.
Boyd Finell, a fish-boil master at The White Gull Inn in Fish Creek, Wis., said he’s seen crowds grow for the outdoor fish boils that draw hundreds of diners to the Inn for the twice-nightly events during the summer.
Nancy Kruse, president of the Atlanta-based consultancy The Kruse Company, said steampots and similar communal meal offerings have several selling points.
“First is sensory impact: They present beautifully, they're chock full of food, and they emit a little heat that suggests everything is freshly prepared,” Kruse said. “They're something consumers can't make at home. The abundance of the food in the pot absolutely conveys value, and their connection to specific places like Boston or New Orleans suggests flavor and authenticity, too.”
Phillips, the seven-unit chain based in Baltimore, Md., has had success with its communal-style combos, which include the $46 Crab Feast with six crabs, a half pound of steamed shrimp, drawn butter, two ears of corn and watermelon.
And Red’s Fresh Seafood House & Tavern in Bokeelia, Fla., has amped up its specialty Red’s Steamer for the autumn. The house specialty Steamer is a mixture of shrimp, clams, oysters, mussels, Alaskan snow crab and Cajun sausage steamed with sweet onion, white wine, garlic and scampi butter, poured at the table out of steaming beer pitchers.
"Our one-of-a-kind process jets steam into pitchers brimming with a combination of fresh herbs, butter and shellfish," said Bud LoCicero, owner of Red’s. "This unique method infuses the taste of seafood and aromatics.”
LoCicero said his restaurant has revamped and expanded the rest of the menu to ready for the winter tourism season. New seafood offerings range from Boom Boom Shrimp and Crab Meatballs to Scallops Nantucket and Wasabi-Pea-Crusted Tuna.
Plug Ugly's Publick House, which opened earlier this year in Baltimore, also offers signature steampots. And the four-unit Philadelphia-based Doc Magrogan’s in Pennsylvania and Deleware has an entire menu of Steamer Pots.
“Our customers love our steamer pots because of the fresh seafood and the variety of seasonings," said Dave Magrogan, chief executive of Doc Magrogan's Oyster House. "It's more than eating dinner; it's a dining experience.
“Cracking crab legs, opening mussels and clams, transports our guests to a fresh seaside experience,” he continued. “Bread tastes better dipped in a steamer pot and beer tastes better with fresh seafood. From simple to spicy, our Steamer Pots have been a big seller."