Why does this delight me so? For those of us lucky enough to have the basics, life is a game — that’s why.

I refer here to the menu at Captain Crab (which actually has a slightly different name — the Crab House, I think — but that’s what I call it) on the 79th Street Causeway in Miami. It has other locations as well. (Indeed, if memory serves it is a tiny public company.)

So here’s the deal. They’ve got this great salad bar. Yes, there’s lettuce and even tuna salad and all that — no one cares. What they really have are freshly shucked clams and oysters (and peelable shrimp and mussels and this awesome ceviche and crabs). Now, where I come from, that’s a salad bar!

I am an old hand at this, shunning tables “by the water” (water, water everywhere) for a table near the salad bar. And I well know that it’s $16.95 if you have the salad bar as your entrée, or $7.99 if you have it with an entrée.

Imagine my surprise, therefore — and the new ka-CHING set of calculations it promptly set off in my head — when we were seated the other night and informed of the new prices (new to me, anyway): $17.99 if you have it as an entrée, $5.95 with an entrée.

Now, the truth is, I scrimped and saved so long getting compound interest to work for rather than against me, it doesn’t much matter what the salad bar costs. And we actually had the jumbo stone crabs, which cost about a million dollars. (Ah, but would I have had them had I been paying? Well, maybe not.) Still, all I could think of for the first half of the dinner — forget impeachment, forget auto insurance reform — was what they were really saying with this new menu.

What they were saying, nestled among all the more expensive entrées, like the stone crabs, was that if you wanted the salad bar as an entrée for $17.99, they would in effect pay you $1.09 if you’d be willing to accept a free entrée of fish and chips to take home to the cat. (I don’t have a cat. I don’t like cats. But you get my point.) That’s right. At $10.95, the fish-and-chip entrée (which itself comes with a big salad) appears to be the cheapest thing on the menu. Add the all-you-can-eat-and-they-give-you-two-big-refillable-dinner-plates-to-load-up-on-it salad bar for $5.95 and your total comes to: $16.90. Or else you could pay an extra $1.09 and skip the fish and chips.

Now it may be that this is fiendishly clever . . . let people think they’re beating the system, and they’ll keep coming. And by the time you’re done with drinks and desert and coffee, etc., you still are not exactly eating on the cheap, anyway. This is not Wendy’s, after all. (Have you tried Wendy’s Veggie Pita? It’s a giant juicy $1.99 slice of happiness.) So maybe a true gamesman at headquarters did this purposely, to appeal to the segment of our dining public that thinks as I do — the twisted segment.

Or maybe they figure a few people will actually eat the fish and chips, thereby cutting down on their consumption of the much more costly freshly shucked oysters and the awesome ceviche. (This is obviously not a trap I would ever fall into. I would sooner buy a cat.)

Or maybe it was just one of those things.

In any event, it’s the current state of affairs at the Crab House; it applies almost as well to the $11.95 seafood-pasta entrées; and I felt you should know about it. Why does this delight me so? For those of us lucky enough to have the basics, life is a game — that’s why.

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