I was slow to visit Crab in a Bag for this column because its location at 1641 Union Ave. seemed cursed to me. I’ve seen at least 10 different restaurants in that location over the years, including Blue Marlin, El Chiquilin, Baja Fish Shack, Jumpin’ Joe’s Fish Shack, La Lena Mexican Restaurant, Cenaduria La Dona and probably more. Some I visited then wrote a column but the place closed before the review could run.
Crab in a Bag has staying power. It offers that same seafood in a bag casual Louisiana dining style that a few other restaurants in Bakersfield also specialize in, but with really reasonable prices in a humble setting near the intersection of Union and Truxtun avenues. I understand why some people, particularly if you have a family, are so passionate about it. And they had out bibs and plastic disposable gloves, which are necessary even if you get the shrimp peeled, which we did. Less work, but still messy. This is not a restaurant for the dainty or prissy. Don’t wear your Sunday best clothes here.
We ordered a bag of peeled shrimp ($22.99), a half-dozen Buffalo wings ($6.99), a couple half-loafs of French bread ($3), a glass of chardonnay ($3.50) and a couple 805s ($4.50 each), with my brother-in-law Jeff, who had never consumed food this way. It does make you feel like a savage, or at least someone sitting around a picnic table on the Bayou after a long day of work where the conversation is as nourishing as the fare.
Though I thought the shrimp were not as fresh as I expected (had that tell-tale bleachy taste that shrimp going south sometimes have) the sauce rescued the shellfish. We chose garlic butter, and that worked well with the red potatoes and corn inside, as well as the sausage link chunks. The bread is a must-order to soak up the great sauce. The chicken wings were thick and meaty and very spicy, a bit off-putting to my companion.
There are no plates or trays, just a white sheet of paper on each table that the staff expects you to mess up in the process. It’s a clean, functional place with a small dining room, and we saw a lot of customers loving the crab, available in snow or king, as well as crawfish, clams and mussels. The big draw for large parties is the specials packages, ranging from $54.99 to $84.99, featuring up to three pounds of shrimp, crawfish, clams or mussels, with sausage, corn, potatoes and white rice. If your children are the picky sort, they do have chicken fingers and fries ($6.99). Readers have also praised the fried shrimp and fish and chips but they weren’t on the menu board when I visited. Might be worth asking about, as they’re listed on the website (shrimp $14.99, cod $13.99 and catfish $11.99). The clam chowder ($4.99) is quite special for our city — might even pass muster in Pismo. That’s high praise.
I thought I was being smart by grabbing the plastic disposable gloves, but I realized that hands are easy to clean afterward and for the sake of social table sanitation, used a fork to pull food items out of the bag and set it on the paper on the table before consuming it. It was all good. But do heed my warning on buying the bread to soak up whatever sauce you choose with the seafood. It’s too good to go to waste.
If you don’t want to go the butter garlic road on the sauce for your bag of food, they have Cajun naked (think rub) and three spice levels of regular Cajun: mild, medium and hot.
Just don’t wear your good clothes. You might regret that even with the bib and gloves.
Pete Tittl’s Dining Out column appears here on Sundays. Email him at email@example.com.