The Rochester Hotel, 202 Johnston Street Fitzroy, Victoria 3065
Shack? This is a crab palace, especially compared with Miss Katie's previous hidey-hole at North Melbourne's Public Bar. New digs at the luxuriously spacious, freshly decorated Rochester Hotel mean two things. One: chef Katie Marron (ex MoVida, Grand Hotel) can cook more – no longer constrained by an arm's-length sized kitchen. Two: more people can eat at Katie's: it's big, yes, but it's also quite lovely; the slacker-band, scuffed-up, served-in-cardboard vibe of the Public Bar may have put off a lot of potential punters.
The long dining room, at the back of the Rochester, is kitsch-classy marine themed. Crab-pot light fittings, staff in horizontal-striped Ts, knocked-about recycled timber, and sketchy murals of a ship and waves set the scene without going overboard. At night, rows of long-burning candles in various stages of melt create shadowy, flickering drama. But the real show begins when you order the signature crab boil.
This is a participation sport, with a degree of dress-ups. The crab boil is a hodgepodge of whole chat potatoes, corn on the cob and spicy kransky crowned with a whole blue-swimmer crab that's been boiled in beer, water and Old Bay seasoning. There's the option to add on: king prawns, mussels, clams or more crab, and there's melted garlic butter and spicy sauce to tip over the top to your preferred degree of soaked and spicy.
Now, time to empty the table's bucket of its mallets, claw-shaped carapace crackers, pickers and crab-picture printed bibs. Wear your bib as you would a breastplate before going into battle.
Then get cracking, sucking, gnawing and splashing - the heavy brown paper over the tables can take it, and the public wash troughs are not just for show (attractive though they are, with industrial-valve handles).
When you've ripped off all the legs, sucked them dry, smashed the claws and stoushed with your tablemates over the soft-sweet lump of body meat, refill the bucket with empty shells, spent cobs and spattered bibs. Jolly good show.
Also hands-on, buttermilk fried chicken, crisp on the outside, juicy inside. It comes with either mash and gravy or you-only-live-once thick, cooked-to-order waffles, Canadian maple syrup and chicken-liver parfait.
Coming into winter, you might consider the whole ham hock with spiced rum glaze, or a thick, soul-warming crab bisque.
Miss Katie's works on so many levels. If you think an American theme restaurant is not for you, then come for the well-priced seafood. If seafood isn't your thing, come for the food anyway. But if you think you're too cool to wear a bib, keep walking.
Do ... Drop in to the front bar for cocktails, craft beers and "shack snacks" such as soft-shell crab sliders.
Dish ... Crab boil, and the winter special bisque in a bread bowl.
Vibe ... The messier the merrier.