The Daily Deal is a coupon / sales incentive program from Jacksonville.com - featuring great deals on goods and services from local merchants. Recently they featured a restaurant we'd been wanting to try, so when they dangled the line with $24 for $50 worth of seafood at The Crabcake Factory in Jacksonville Beach, we took the bait.
Three generations of beach babes rolled into the place during a Thursday lunch service.We were sorry to see the dining room was empty, but that meant we had our choice of seats. We asked our hostess for a table in the lightest area possible.
She led us into the deserted dining room, and passing at least three tables that would have done nicely, proceeded to steer us to the darkest back corner of the room. While she seemed confused, we just made ourselves at home near the window.
The Crabcake Factory features Maryland Blue Crab - billing it as "Incredible Seafood in a Fine Atmosphere."
The best dish to grace our table was the simplest of starters - the Cream of Crab soup was delicate, sweet and buttery, with just the right consistency - not too gloppy or soupy. The sweet blue crab was showcased perfectly in this dish. If only we would have stopped there. But we had fifty dollars to spend, so we ordered up and waited for our next course to arrive.
Caribbean Conch Fritters served with jerk key lime sauce (8.95) were massive, dense balls of fried dough with a few shards of rubbery conch scattered inside. A let down after that lovely soup.
On a previous visit I had enjoyed the Jumbo Lump Crab Cake Napoleon - a pan broiled crab cake topped with sweet and sour mango salsa and finished with a lemon Chardonnay butter sauce and minced greens (11.95)
It was light and sunny creation, with plenty of crab and sweet mango, lightly sauced, and with a glass of white wine it was the perfect afternoon snack.
When I asked for more of the same on this outing, our waiter recommended I try instead the Bayou Jumbo Lump Crab Cake - served over crawfish in a light Cajun lemon butter cream sauce. (11.95)
I have to admit, the crawfish lured me in. But what I found at the other end of that hook was a gelatinous glop of shiny, over-seasoned dayglo orange goo, which completely overpowered the sweet tender crab in the generously portioned cake. Good crawfish though.
Our youngest diner was intrigued by the "Famous" Fish Taco - billed as original baja style fish tacos, beer battered fresh fish with shredded cabbage, pico de gallo, and cheddar cheese, topped with a spicy chipotle aioli. (lunch menu 8.95)
Unfortunately, there was no getting past that thick, orange beer batter.
Once cooked it was more like two thin strips of fish encased in a savory deep-fried muffin. She politely picked at it, but was happy to have ordered a side salad so she at least had some sustenance. Our other two diners ordered the same entree. Seafood Imperial - scallops, shrimp, crab claw fingers stuffed with lump crab imperial glazed with a lemon butter Chardonnay sauce. (9.95) - presents as a mound of creamed seafood and stuffing buried under a dome of broiled glaze with blue crab claw tips poking out at the corners.
Not knowing quite how to approach the dish, the matriarch of the family pulled out one of the delicate little crab claws and started to pull the meat off with her teeth.
In a flash she spat out the crab and began moaning, desperately wiping her tongue with a napkin, washing out her mouth with water from a nearby glass. When she could speak, she informed us the little crab claw was rotten. "Smell this" she asked. I dutifully obliged and met with a whiff of the most rancid, putrid, disgusting thing I've EVER smelled in a restaurant, period.
Fearing for her safety, we stopped the other diner from eating her meal. She plucked out the crab claws, and cautiously sniffed each one. No problem. She began tentatively nibbling away at it, but I can only imagine her enthusiasm was lessened.
When our waiter finally emerged, we asked him to remove the rotten dish. He apologized for our trouble and whisked it back to the kitchen immediately, without asking could he bring something else in its place.
Now there were four hungry diners, three not so appetizing entrees, and one person sitting with no food at all. Another ten minutes went by before we saw our waiter again. We waved him over (which we had to do despite the fact there was only one other table seated in the entire room) and suggested our diner might want something to eat. "Oh, sure, what can I get you" he asked.
She wasn't sure she wanted anything at all, since whatever would be brought out clearly wouldn't get here before we were finished with our meals. The waiter said, "well, I did ask the chef to fire up another Imperial for you, and put a rush on it. Let me go check on that for you" he offered generously. Another ten minutes ticked by before the replacement meal arrived.
Then we were three diners sitting in front of picked over plates, while our matriarch was left to dig in and finish her meal. She noted the temperature of the dish was quite uneven - with some pieces being cold and others quite hot. Accompanying veggies were basically raw. She dug out a whole scallop and shrimp, ate them both, and took a couple polite bites of the imperial mixture, just enough to curb her hunger, before throwing in the napkin.
In an ironic twist, as we were waiting for our check to arrive, the chef emerged from the kitchen - not to ask how our meal was or apologize for the rancid crab, but to have his picture taken! I snapped this one with my cell phone while the photographer was snapping away. I didn't ask his name.
When we walked out, a CCF employee asked the matriarch how everything was. Big mistake. "It was awful. I was served rotten food. This was possibly the worst dining experience of my life" she answered honestly.
"Oh my gosh! I'm sorry! What happened?" She looked to me for explanation.
"She was served rotten food," I replied.
"I'm sorry that happened to you. Did the waiter bring you a replacement?"
"Yes. We had already finished our meals by then though."
I'm thinking the waiter could have let management know this had happened, so someone other than our waiter could have come to the table and apologized to our 72 year old matriarch. We worried that she might suffer ill effects from coming in such close contact with rotted seafood, but she has a stout constitution and was just fine. We took the edge off the event with some fro-yo dessert at nearby Mr. Yogato.
Their website promises "you’ll have a fun-filled and delicious dining experience!" On this day, they did not deliver on that promise. We won't be punching in at the Crab Cake Factory again.