Opening up any restaurant is a massive challenge, but driven by a dream (and/or a financial opportunity), people still do it.
That challenge is only more daunting when your restaurant takes over a location from a former local icon. And so New York City native Nana Wang and her partner have taken on a Herculean task in opening The Crabman — at the former site of the Rue Franklin.
Wang said she and her partner were inspired by the desire to provide Buffalo with a high-quality seafood boil restaurant, a concept that restaurants down south have been trafficking in for a long time, and one that is slowly starting to make its way up north.
“I’m from New York City,” Wang told us, “and there, this type of seafood boil became very popular about two or three years ago. Me and my boyfriend went to Boston around that time, and I found that this type of seafood was also getting popular over there.”
Living in Buffalo for the past 8 years while attending pharmacy school at UB, Wang said she was constantly on the lookout for good local seafood, but always found herself driving to Toronto to get an acceptable fix.
“When I saw (seafood boil) restaurants coming up in Boston and New York City, I thought, ‘Why can’t we have a restaurant like this in Buffalo?’” she wondered.
In case you didn’t know, a seafood boil is what it sounds like: You throw a bunch of seafood and spices in a pot of boiling water and when it’s done cooking, you dump the food out on a table and go to town, family style.
At The Crabman, you pick one or two types of seafood, a sauce for tossing the seafood in and a level of spice. Your food arrives unceremoniously: in a plastic bag and a bucket. You also get disposable gloves, a bib, a metal ‘shell cracker’ tool, a pick for extracting shell meat and a miniature garbage bag for your scraps.
We found the service to be attentive. The menu and service style were both clearly explained. The food came out quickly, unlike the typically slow service of a certain chain seafood restaurant that rhymes with ‘fed slobster’.
Our crab legs were cooked to perfection and the combo sauce we got was “bomb”, according to one of our dining guests. We also found that the prices were really good. (Seafood in Buffalo isn’t cheap, you guys.)
One thing that bears mentioning: There’s a lot of highly-visible plastic waste going on here. Does The Crabman produce more plastic waste than other restaurants, like a Starbucks or a Ted’s Hot Dogs, for instance? It’s impossible to tell, especially because plastic waste is often generated in restaurant kitchens.
Also, the ambiance was just okay. If you were a massive fan of the Rue Franklin, you might literally clutch your pearls when seeing the fishnets and plastic lifesavers on the walls. That may affect your experience, or it may not. Our dining guest told us The Crabman is “not much for ambiance, but when I’m eating crab legs I don’t care, lol.”
So, the food, the service and value-for-dollar were all pretty good at The Crabman, but unfortunately the restaurant still has to operate under the towering shadow of the Rue Franklin.
“Because the previous restaurant was there forever, so people are still talking about it,” Wang said. “They come to my restaurant and say, ‘Oh, this is very different from the Rue Franklin.’ Yeah, but times are changing. It’s time for something new.
“I don’t mind when people talk about the previous restaurant and how good it was, but I truly believe that as long as we have good food, friendly staff and a good atmosphere for eating; after time, people will start thinking of us as The Crabman – and not think of us a ‘the previous Rue Franklin.’”
We suggest you visit The Crabman, block out memories of the Rue and judge for yourself. At least you’ll know you’re getting a good deal on well-cooked seafood, and getting great service.
341 Franklin St, Buffalo, New York 14202
Hours: Monday to Thursday, 4:30 p.m. – 10 p.m., Friday 4:30 – 11 p.m., Saturday 12 p.m. – 11 p.m., Sunday 12 p.m. – 9 p.m.