Florida Keys Business
Sunday, August 4, 2013
Shell, yeah!
Fresh crabs are a family affair at Pinchers Crab Shack

It starts with yards of plain white paper spread across polished wooden tables, and ends with piles of wet naps. Discarded among the detritus, they become tiny white flags of satisfied surrender.

The warriors relinquish their weapons and raise a glass (or beer bottle) to their worthy adversary, the crab.

Those tabletop crab battles are now taking place on Duval Street, where the July 14 opening of Pinchers Crab Shack has augmented Key West's storied seafood selection and filled a hole in the 700 block.

The father-son team of Tony and Grant Phelan opened their ninth Pinchers location at 712 Duval St., in the sprawling, two-story building that for decades housed Crabby Dick's restaurant and then a string of short-lived attempts.

But Pinchers Crab Shack is here for the long haul and is committed to being an active part of the local community.

"Key West is probably my dad's all-time favorite place in the United States," said Grant Phelan. "He had his boat at the Galleon last year, and got 'stuck' in Key West for two weeks last year during Hurricane Sandy. When he saw this restaurant space on Duval Street, he decided to make a dream come true."

The family and dedicated staff renovated the entire interior of the upstairs restaurant, which offers unprecedented free parking in the back - accessible from Angela Street --and a kids-eat-free policy whenever an adult orders at least $14 worth of food.

Crabs are obviously a mainstay of the menu, offered as crab cakes, pick-your-own blue crabs, snow crab legs in season and the user-friendly Pinchers Claws, "fresh blue crab claws sautéed in white wine and garlic butter, topped with Parmesan cheese."

For those untrained in the art of crab picking, the Pinchers Claws appetizers offer up the sweet meat of a blue crab claw with zero effort.

And anyone eager to immerse themselves in the picking experience is encouraged to dive in.

"And if anyone doesn't know how to pick a crab, we'll sit right down at the table and teach them how," said one of the restaurant's managers after walking a new waitress through an unfamiliar computer screen.

Pinchers also offers shrimp, oysters, clams, grouper, snapper and tilapia, along with familiar favorites for one-in-every-crowd non-seafood eaters like chicken parmesan, pasta, burgers and salads.

"If it's caught in the Gulf of Mexico, we serve it fresh," said Phelan, whose family is from the Naples, Fort Myers area, where the first few Pinchers were opened and continue to draw crowds.

The family also owns their own fish house on Pine Island, where fresh fish and crabs are unloaded daily.

"We have 30 or 40 people in the fish house picking 3,000 to 4,000 pounds of crab meat a day," he said. "And we're so humbled and honored to now be a part of Key West."

The restaurant's motto, "You can't fake fresh," hangs on the wall above the bar, and is evident on every steaming plate that comes out of the kitchen.

Those plated are delivered to the expectant and enthusiastic diners, who wield their weapons with expert skill, and dive into their meal.

"You're gonna get dirty, just accept that," one diner said. "But the reward is so worth the effort."


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