|One gator greets you; dozens more slither in the lagoon. (David Lyon for The Boston Globe)|
TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. -- When Jack and Belinda Flanigan took over the property on Chimney Creek here in the early 1980s, it was an old fishing camp. The pair ran charter fishing excursions from its small pier, and soon started throwing crab traps into the creek and shrimp nets over the sides of their boats. By 1987, when they got their first liquor license, seafood boils for the locals had evolved into the Crab Shack restaurant. In the two decades since, it has become a local institution dedicated to the copious consumption of creatures that crawl and snap.
That is, except the alligators, which the Flanigans keep around as mascots, not meals A fiberglass 'gator on its hind legs greets customers out front. In an enclosed lagoon overhung with Spanish moss, dozens of young alligators (78 at last count) slither about, bask in the sun, and snap at food lowered on a cane pole. Signs warn visitors not to try this at home, or in the wild.
The Crab Shack is the warm-climate version of our lobster shack, where the focus is on boiled or steamed shellfish and every table features a big rock to crack shells and a roll of paper towels to mop up the mess. The restaurant's motto is "where the elite eat in their bare feet," and many customers do indeed hop barefoot from small boats.
Best bets are always the local crabs (stone or blue, depending on season) and the sweet wild Georgia sea islands shrimp. The most popular dish, though, is the Low Country boil: a heaping plate of shrimp, corn on the cob, potatoes, and mild sausage.
The Crab Shack, 40 Estill Hammock Road, Tybee Island, Ga. 912-786-9857. thecrabshack.com. Meal plates $10-$22.