Crawl Over Red Lobster, New Seafood Chain Invades BK

Crab Du Jour location at 233 Utica Avenue in Crown Heights. Photo Ariama C. Long.

Crab Du Jour is spreading fresh seafood and deliciously messy flavor like wildfire throughout Brooklyn with nine locations and counting. So what is the secret roulade sauce to their rapid expansion during COVID when so many places went belly up last year? 

In honor of NYC Restaurant Week, KCP tracked down the creative souls behind the giant crab brand, that’s cropping up on every corner of East Flatbush, Flatbush, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Crown Heights, and Bedford-Stuyvesant, for the full story. 

And then, I’ll be blunt: I promptly stuffed my face with half the menu to see what all the fuss was about and dragged my family with me. Specifically, my mom, who’s picky beyond measure and who’s fierce brown eyes has cut men twice her size down to knee-high level. Our usual, admittedly corny, mother-daughter dine outs have been non existent because of the pandemic. So she excitedly jumped at the opportunity to join in the taste testing as she skeptically stood in my kitchen eyeing the stove and questioning my cleaning habits a little too much for comfort.

Inside Crab Du Jour at 233 Utica Avenue. Photo by Ariama Long.

We called ahead, wrapped up tight like Aspen skiers and then ventured into the frigid night to pick up the food, which was just a short walk away at 233 Utica Avenue. The Crab Du Jour place hasn’t been there long, but it’s bulging overhang crab sign with ominous white under lighting was definitely hard to miss on the block.   

Crab Du Jour, ‘the seafood boil and bar’ as the motto goes, is primarily a takeout and delivery chain right now because of COVID restrictions. That doesn’t take away from the “nautical oasis” atmosphere or the home-style cooking that serves up generous portions of crab, crawfish, calamari, lobster, po’ boys, wings, hush puppies, and more. 

“Our food stands up really well towards delivery,” said Jeff Schroth, Crab Du Jour Regional General Manager of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, & Delaware. “I mean, it comes in a double bag so it stays nice and hot, and when it’s like our restaurant to table. There’s no prep needed. You just open up the bag and it’s like bam, it hits you.”

Inside the hefty Catch Special boil bag for two. Photo by Ariama Long.

The seafood chain is privately owned by President and CEO Leon Chen who, according to his lawyer, is also a pretty private guy as well. Chen is a restaurateur who resides in New Jersey and has opened over 100 restaurants along the coast, he said. 

The chain got its start in Charlotte, North Carolina aiming to serve the community with good quality southern and cajun style seafood at affordable prices, said the spokesperson. Crab Du Jour speedily made its crawl up the coast, populating in Philadelphia and New Jersey before hitting New York. 

The first restaurant on Atlantic Avenue, in Ozone Park, Queens, was initially opened in 2019 but was delayed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, said the spokesperson, but the rest throughout central Brooklyn were opened mostly last year which was difficult to do with the city at “half capacity.” There’s also two more locations in Manhattan and Queens. 

According to Crab Du Jour market research, said the spokesperson, Brooklyn is densely populated though, and lacks affordable seafood that won’t break your wallet. It’s because of that niche demand for cajun seafood and southern style comfort foods in many neighborhoods that they ultimately decided to open so many in the borough.

My mom and I shuffled back to the house, large and heavy brown paper bags in tow. We took our time dishing out the fried oysters, lemon pepper chicken wings, and sweet potato fries before digging into the massive triple-bagged boil bag that held mussels, clams, shrimps with beady little eyes, lobster tails, corn, and whole potatoes drenched in garlic butter spices. Let’s just say we discovered the signature bibs at the bottom of the bag way too late to advert the complete mess we made of ourselves while eating.

The crisp zest and seasonings of the wings, coupled with the buttery-goodness of the seafood, was definitely a throwback to family outings in Georgia and Florida. Crab Du Jour had combined the casual, lick your fingers experience of a Rustic Inn in Fort Lauderdale with a Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen, said my mom, whole by all means hates mess to the point of compulsion but was gladly hand over fist beside me during dinner. It’s the kind of occasion where you freeze the bag of seasonings and juice to throw into a pot of rice later, she said with abandon.  

Lemon Pepper Fried Chicken Wings

The concept is inherently southern and soulful so it’s struck a chord within primarily Black and Caribbean communities where seafood boil bags are already low-key the staple, especially considering that all-star Executive Chef Daniel Brown is behind the sauces and seasonings. 

Brown was born in Harlem on 131 Street, he said, and is of Haitian background. “I’ve cooked all over but I‘ve never sat down and studied unless there was a technique I wanted to perfect,” said Brown. 

Brown has never owned his own restaurant, but he has worked in several high end, Michelin star restaurants in Philadelphia, like The Latham Hotel and Steak 48. Brown said he started out cooking at Longhorn Steakhouse until he worked his way up and into apprenticing eventually with Philadelphia restaurateur icon Steven Starr, of the Starr Group, for over a decade. 

Brown was hired in October 2020, said Schroth, and is the “culinary creative guru” that shapes the recipes and ideas for the restaurants in the region. 

“I just love food,” said Brown, humbly. “Food is food, and it’s all simple. And I shared in the vision when Jeff brought me on. I came from Steak 48 and I wanted to do something different. I didn’t want to go back into a fine dining atmosphere. I just wanted to make great food and put out great products and make great menus and work with great people.”

Brown said that being a chef is absolutely less about ego for him now and more so about feeding people good food. He said he believes that people want fresh seafood with fresh ingredients at an agreeable price point, that’s it, that’s the secret.