Katie Marron delivering food at her two-month-old Crab Shack. Photo: Angela Wylie
Bib up - it's crab time. Maryland comes to Melbourne with Miss Katie's Crab Shack, a shrine to old-style southern cooking made from family recipes. There's organic whole blue swimmer crabs, house-made cornbread, sticky smoky ribs, and that US classic - awesome fried chicken and waffles.
''My mum grew up in Chesapeake Bay. Out the back was a lake, crab pots and a jetty,'' says Katie Marron, 27, who was Matt Germanchis's No. 2 at Pandora's Box and, before that, at MoVida and the Grand Hotel, so there's cheffy spin on the dive-bar, crab shack vibe.
The recipes come from Marron's great aunt Lamar, who writes cookbooks - mainly for friends - based on dishes that fed ''uncle Billy'' and their eight children. ''She's got some great gumbo recipes, and fried green tomatoes, which we'll be doing in summer,'' Marron says but Lamar's ''cannibal'' (offal) and ''snapping turtle'' stews are off the menu.
Get cracking: Low Country Boil. Photo: Angela Wylie
You'll find Miss Katie's Crab Shack squatting in the big-windowed, scungy front room of the Public Bar, a likeable, ''knock in for a jar'' kind of place, with newspaper on the tables and crabby knick-knacks - nets, buoys and a lairy orange prawn.
Order at the counter and ask about the day's specials - maybe sweet Portarlington mussels turned into crunchy-soft croquettes or in a thick soul-warming chowder.
Nearly everything is home-made, from the Sailor Jerry's spiced rum barbecue sauce to the hot sauce, a zesty blend of chipotle and bullhorn peppers sweetened with Canadian maple syrup. ''I only use Canadian maple. Mum and I don't have anything else,'' Marron says.
Buttermilk fried chicken and waffles. Photo: Angela Wylie
Crabs are boiled whole, as they would be at a South Carolina low-country boil - a kind of a seafood festival day - with chunks of corn and spicy sausage in a garlicky butter, with Old Bay seasoning. Use your brown-paper goodie bag, complete with bib and wooden mallet - and get cracking.
''Coming in to summer, we'll be doing mud crabs and Alaskan king crabs for a group.''
Marron is tight-lipped about the buttermilk fried chicken recipe, but admits that it's a classic three-day process. She used to make it for ''the boys'' at Pandora's Box, who called it ''lucky chicken'', because whenever they'd eat it, they'd have success with the ladies.
Like all good fried chicken, it's hardcore, this one beautifully crunchy in its spiced coat - I definitely tasted paprika, cayenne pepper and cinnamon - the meat succulent and juicy. The cooked-to-order waffle is good too, doused in maple syrup.
Glazed chicken ribs are marinated for two days in the Sailor Jerry's and hot sauce, rolled in tapioca flour, deep-fried, then glazed with a smoky rum maple syrup caramel. Good? Oh yeah.
Also damn fine is the crab burger, the crab cake made from picked meat, with a herby dill mayo and slaw in a sweet brioche-style Asian toasted bun with sesame seeds.
I admire Miss Katie's for its staunch representation of southern food, but also reckon the menu could benefit from a couple more modern, south-inspired dishes that don't involve the deep fryer.
It's a fun place here. It's crabtastic.
Do … Take home Sailor Jerry's barbecue sauce, on sale soon.
Don't … Get dressed up. It's paper plates all the way.
Dish … Low Country Boil.
Vibe … Easy, fun, cool.
- 03 9329 9888
- Cuisine - American (US)
- Prices - ''Shackatizers'', $8-$12; mains, $14-$24.
- Features - Licensed, Bar
- Chef(s) - Katie Marron
- Opening Hours - Mon-Fri, 5-9pm; Sat-Sun, noon-9pm
- Author - Nina Rousseau