St. Simons Fallback
Art of the Meal
Some like it hot. One of Georgia’s most popular summer getaways, St. Simons Island is packed in the peak months of June through August. But I’ve always loved the beach in fall and winter. The gnarled live oaks still stand sentry over the sidewalks, but the throngs of tourists are mostly gone. If you’re lucky, the night air will be cool, but you might be able to swim during Indian summer, even as the leaves turn. Now the island becomes your private enclave. Drink in the solitude, and smugly pretend to have lived here all your life as you adopt the leisurely pace of a resident. Best of all: You won’t have to wait for a table on a Friday night at the Crab Trap.
Like a lot of great beach joints, The Crab Trap has a few good dishes – but that’s enough. It’s perfectly situated for a short stroll from the King & Prince, St. Simons’ popular resort since the 1940s, so going out for dinner after your arrival doesn’t have to mean climbing back into the car. It’s perfectly fine, in fact, to wear worn shorts and your favorite T-shirt over your still-damp suit if you feel like it.
Lots of folks, I suspect, like joining the critical mass that builds in the waiting area in summers, where The Crab Trap has thoughtfully installed a bar. But if you time it exactly right, you can swoop in and grab one of the last tables and watch the crowd grow over the dinner hour: whole families, babies in carriers, grandpas ushering in the next generation, teenagers, solidly middle-class, happily married couples just happy to make it here, together, one more year. The beer is cold, the tea unsweet, the service swift, and the turnover so quick that the flash-fried seafood won’t wait long in the kitchen. (Former sibling Crab Daddy’s, next door, has recently gone to new ownership, meaning the loyal Crab Trap following was even denser than usual this summer.)
But in fall, like everyplace else on St. Simons, The Crab Trap is a little lonelier, a little slower, but a little more your own. And although there’s nothing like the crisp edge of a slight sunburn, or sand in your shoes, to go with the ice-cold drinks, the cool season has its own offerings, such as the very best oysters, from Appalachicola and elsewhere, and the sweetest crab. Somehow, The Crab Trap manages to get good supplies year-round, but the cool-weather oysters are the best – and cheapest – you’ll find around. (On a recent winter visit, some wonderfully fat specimens were 35 cents each.) On the half-shell, or roasted, as you prefer.
Second on your Crab Trap “to-do” list: Order the soup. The Crab Trap’s signature crab soup is one of the lightest-tasting and textured varieties I’ve sampled, but the creamy-stock base offers small pools of butter and onion, along with the potato.
One of the few changes The Crab Trap has made in more than 25 years is adding broiled, blackened and grilled items to the range of options. And they’ll do in a pinch. But let’s face it: What you want here is fried seafood. Specifically: fat, crunchy shrimp, big soft-shell crab, silk-centered oysters. Skip the battered fries if you must, but stick with the creamy coleslaw. Everything else, you can live without: The blase rock shrimp, the just-OK deviled crab, the small but perfectly fine scallops. The hush puppies can be heavy as lead sinkers. But who cares? You don’t just come here for the food, but to register your arrival on St. Simons once more. The Crab Trap is half-restaurant, half milepost, measuring the passing of one sweet season to the next.
Krista Reese is Georgia Trend’s restaurant critic. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.