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October 7, 2009 > Restaurant Review: Art's Crab Shak (formerly The Hayward Fishery Restaurant)

Restaurant Review: Art's Crab Shak (formerly The Hayward Fishery Restaurant)

By Denny Stein

Labor Day weekend... Friday, 6:30 p.m. The parking lot behind the old building is almost empty, inside the rooms are quiet and there are only two tables of customers. Perhaps Labor Day Friday will be slow since families tend to leave town for the last long weekend of the summer. But people are drifting in. Quite a few with children and by 7:30 p.m., all the rooms are full and the place is hopping. There are couples, groups of friends, and family units.

The wait staff - Kim and Mercedes - never lose their cool even though the crowd seems larger than expected. Walls are brightly painted and sport 3-D fish sculptures in dramatic poses. Maybe some of these fish were once alive, but they now mingle with artistic renditions of ocean life, decorative shells and nets, and area sports theme photos. Soulful 80s music plays in the background, there is a relaxed Shak atmosphere; you could almost be at the beach.

Everyone is in a good mood, even the children who are all, without exception, well behaved. Perhaps this is due to the variety available on the menu. Besides seafood offerings described below, there are pastas, hamburgers, and Mexican dishes, so any non-seafood lover (or picky small person) can be satisfied.

But the crowd comes for seafood and crab specifically. And no one seems disappointed.

Kim Luz, the Head Server who has been there for 10 years, started us off with an appetizer of Garlic Crab: Pieces of crab in the shell, sautˇed with fresh mushrooms, garlic and herbs. It sounds like it might be a mess to eat, but it's aroma is so heady, the herb and garlic combination so plexciting (that's pleasing and exciting), that no one stopped to worry about whether to use fingers or forks, picks or knives. "Use whatever tool you can... just like monkeys and anthills," said one of the hungry scientists at our table.

Personally I'm not a crab freak, but the garlicky butter sauce and mushrooms were too good to pass up. And the hot homemade loaf of bread was just the thing to sop up my share. The Garlic Crab is very popular and comes in bucket sizes from Regular to Family, eat-in or take-out. Don't hesitate to try it.

Clam Chowder, a seafood restaurant staple, was served hot, and tasted fresh. "I could eat that whole thing," Said Dr. W, who was trying to hold back. Not to be outdone by the crabs, prawns are served up dressed in Parmesan, marinara sauce and melted Monterey Jack, or broiled with fresh garlic and parmesan, or simply steamed, accompanied by cocktail sauce. The Beer Batter Prawns are tempura fried, and rolled in coconut. These were large, firm, crispy and sweet, an unequivocal favorite: "That's good. That's really good. That's really good!"

All the servings are generous and arranged attractively on large colorful plates, accompanied by good-for-you vegetables like broccoli and carrots, and sporting plenty of lemon. In fact, garlic and lemon are the underpinnings of most of the seafood dishes. Our Deep Fried Red Snapper came with hefty French fries and Cole Slaw, the Sautˇed Petrale Sole swam a little too deeply in its buttery lemon sauce, but did not disappoint taste-wise.

The servers at Art's are friendly, welcoming and attentive, and they brought us plenty of napkins! They are knowledgeable about their food and their customers and were a pleasure to get to know. In the kitchen, which was recently renovated, the chefs look up and smile, the counters are clean and well-organized. Polished stainless steel reflects the pride that the staff takes in their offerings.

Milouda Kelly is the "new" proprietor of the Hayward Fishery Restaurant, having bought it in 2005 from the original family owners. Ms. Kelly has owned and operated Art's Crab Shak in Oakland since 1992, so she is a seasoned restaurateur, who cooks and waits tables in her Oakland location. Her comments illustrated the reason behind the Tri-City Voice support of locally owned area restaurants. "The recession has hit us hard," she said; "Big, little, all of us. We're just trying to survive, and keep our employees working."

In these old East Bay buildings it is sometimes hard to maintain the appearance of cleanliness, despite all the efforts. The restroom walls were obviously repainted many times, but the vanity, sink and commode were brand new. Clearly Ms. Kelly is trying to take care not only of her employees and customers, but the physical well-being of Art's Crab Shak/Hayward Fishery Restaurant, sister to the Oakland Art's Crab Shak.

There is convenient parking in back, an enclosed patio area for warm nights, and a movie theatre within walking distance, so, whether you think of it as Art's Crab Shak, or the Hayward Fishery Restaurant, make a night of it in Hayward. The customer who exclaimed "Wow!" as her entree arrived was clearly starting off her evening plexcited.

Visited September 4, 2009

Art's Crab Shak
22701 Foothill Boulevard, Hayward
(510) 537-6410

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