Visiting family Back East as a kid was the first time I was introduced to something called a "low country boil."
My relatives tossed shrimp, crab, clams and even lobster caught earlier that day from the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean into vats of roiling salty water in one pot and halved ears of corn and red potatoes into another. An uncle manning the grill turned sizzling plump sausages as various other family members laid out newspaper on picnic tables, which were held down by hearty tins of butter and various cylinders of Louisiana spices and bay seasoning. Before long, the shellfish was removed and drained then randomly spread out on the news print tablecloth, followed by the corn and potatoes as well as the sausages, cut up into bite-sized pieces. The adults and various cousins that were used to such a feast looked at the steaming table of color and mirth like hungry beasts, but I was confused. Growing up on the California coast, I had never seen such a delight of well-placed disaster or smelled the concurrent mélange of saltwater crustaceans happily buried in a veneer of crunchy, savory tidbits.
My grandfather, in all of his glorious wisdom, sagely advised me: "Just go for it." So, without asking for further permission, I grabbed a bit of everything and began to lay waste to the heaping knoll of succulent virtue before me, while somewhere deep in the excursion of my childhood voracity a light went on in my quasi-blacked out bliss: It was freakin' amazing.
The combination of the fresh seafood, the snap and sweetness from the corn, the fattiness of the sausages, the soft texture of the potatoes with the salty spice from the seasoning and the endless babbling brooks of butter had transformed me into a savage beast as well. On top of it all, it was so much fun to eat.
Here in Tucson, we do have a few ocean-harvest options, most of which are delicious and most of which you have been to...but does anybody do a face-slathering, low-country boil? Not that I know of. So, when by chance picking up food from an adjoining restaurant on Fort Lowell Road and Campbell Avenue, I had to step inside to a curious new concept called Seafood Time.
That location between Rosa's and China Szechuan has been occupied many times by many different styles of cuisine, only to be crushed by poor operation and lack of business. But on this random night the little spot was pretty packed. Picking up a menu, I noticed that it was really sparse, if not a bit bewildering. It asks you to select a catch (which has crab, mussels, shrimp and even crawdads), then an addition, such as fries and corn, and to finish it off, spices ranging between mild and hot. Wait a minute. This sounds familiar. Inspecting the tables, I saw nothing but piles of shellfish, sausages and potatoes splayed out with patrons just going for it. Seafood Time is a low-country-boil restaurant! Seriously?
Owner and manager Eddie Lau also owns Gee's Garden and, from the success of that venture, was able to procure Seafood Time. Having moved from China when he was very young, Lau has always had a fascination with food and kitchens, so going into the restaurant business was an obvious career choice. Although he has never traveled Down South or Back East. Lau has always enjoyed this style of eating and cooking and, by tests and tastes, he eventually came up with a formula that works.
Most of the crab comes directly from Alaska, which he picks up early in the morning at the airport, while others come from the Northwest waters of Washington and Oregon. When I sat down to try out the goods, I was at once both nervous and excited, wondering if he can recreate those flavors from my youth. Eddie then brings out a large metallic bowl crawling with shellfish, liberally doused in his hot seasoning. And then...I went for it.
Stunning. Fantastically fresh, generous, flavorful, taking me back to that time hunched, sweating over a picnic table covered in the daily Times. A word of warning though: the hot spice option is like really hot; a ghost pepper concoction, Eddie tells me. I had a great time with it but, oh man, that burn though. And it was a lot of food. You might think spending close to $30 on king crab legs is pricy, but when it arrives you too will smile and turn into a ravenous eat beast. It is so worth it. Seafood Time is a dining experience of sheer frolic and communal feast, reminding you that eating can—and should—be fun.
You just gotta go for it!