DINING: For a great crab experience, Ozzie’s is a good nearby bet

Christine and I were in Annapolis a few weekends ago for a wedding, and even though we had a lunch at a charming waterfront crab house at an inlet of the Chesapeake Bay, we didn’t want to get the clothes we had to wear to the church soiled with crab dirt, so we passed up the chance to crack some Maryland blue crabs.

But those crabs had sure looked good – and when we passed Ozzie’s several times on the way to and from events in the Melbourne area, we decided we simply had to try their crabs last Saturday night. And we’re happy we did.

Ozzie’s Crab House in Palm Bay – you can’t miss it at night with all the multi-colored Christmassy lights wrapped around the trunks of the palm trees – has several different dining and bar areas upstairs, downstairs, inside, outside or next door in the bar. Apart from your choice of seating, you can also choose what kind of crabs you want and how you want them cooked.

To the un-crab-initiated, the menu can seem almost overwhelming – many pages of delicious-sounding dishes. While most of it is seafood – especially crabs – pasta, beef and chicken are also available as well as a children’s menu.

We were greeted by Jimmy and shown to a table. Our waitress, Destiny, quickly arrived, asking if we’d ever been there before and showing her willingness to answer any questions we might have.

I started with Florida Lager on draft, while Christine had a glass of pinot grigio while we studied the menu. We decided to forgo an appetizer or soup, because Destiny told us that the Neptune Platter ($43.95) would be more than enough for two – and she was right.

In addition to a ½ pound each of King, Snow and Dungeness crabs, there were 2 Maryland style and 2 garlic-butter Blue Crabs, as well as a generous serving of steamed shrimp.

Before she brought our order out, she covered our table with newspaper and gave us tools to crack the crabs as well as a bucket for the shells.

The arrival of our huge and delicious-smelling platter was quite an event. It was garnished with lemon wedges, and accompanied by two small cups of melted butter, while Destiny also brought cocktail, tartar and remoulade sauces. We also got a salad and side to share – we chose the loaded baked potato.

The only problem was where to start – everything looked so tasty. We plowed through the different kinds of crabs, ending with the Maryland-style blue crabs, which we were assured came right out of our Indian River Lagoon. Sweet, salty and mild – different crabs, different tastes. While the crabs were delicious, it was just as much fun cracking them and popping the tender morsels in our mouths.

When we finally reached our limit, Destiny cleared our table, brought us wipes and told us we could have asked for bibs – so that’s what we should have done in Annapolis to save our wedding clothes!

At the next table, a couple obviously new to eating crabs, decided to order the “All You Can Eat” Crabs for $29.95 each – and opted for the $3 extra to get them like garlic crabs, meaning the first cut of the dirty work has been done for you. Jimmy, their waiter, who had shown us to our table when we first arrived, asked them if they knew how to eat crabs and they replied no.

When their first platters arrived – of course there would refills – he stayed at their table and guided them through the procedure of cracking and eating crabs. He did so in an extremely helpful and non-patronizing way – and the guests appreciated not being made to feel stupid. Jimmy showed himself to be a true professional of the hospitality industry..

Ozzie’s offers home-made pies each day and the day’s specials were Key lime and peanut butter. Unfortunately, they had run out of the Key lime by the time we finished our crab feast – we readily admit it took us a while. Christine will make sure to order a slice when we first get there the next time.

All the seafood was extremely fresh, and we were pleasantly surprised to have to pay less than $60 for the feast for both of us including drinks and taxes (before tip).

Although cracking crabs was enough entertainment for us, Ozzie’s does offer live music next door, from bluegrass to karaoke Wednesday through Sunday nights.

Ozzie’s is pretty much a tradition in our part of the lagoon, having been started by Ozzie Alexander in 1966. The original location was close to Sebastian in Grant, but the present Palm Bay location is still no more than 15 minutes from the St. Sebastian River bridge.

If you’re a real crab aficionado like we are, you won’t be able to stay away from Ozzie’s for long before you satisfy your craving. And if you’re a crab novice, you don’t know what you’re missing. Ozzie’s website can give you a good start with descriptions of all the different kinds of crabs.

And from that point on, Jimmy (or Destiny) will take over. You’re in good hands with them.

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