Dungeness crab

Dungeness crab with potatoes, sausage and "everything" flavor at Mad Boiling Crab. Seafood arrives at the table in double plastic bags.

Part of what makes eating out so enjoyable is that someone else does all the work.

At Mad Boiling Crab, the seafood is boiled in the kitchen, but dropped off at your table to crack. And the cracking can take a lot of time, so plan accordingly.

We started with an appetizer of fantastic fried soft-shell crab ($10), which was tender inside and had a light, crisp batter. It was an easy start to the meal because no cracking was involved. The crabs came with a cup of orange dipping sauce, and were served over some very ordinary, medium-cut french fries.

The two kids at our table ordered cheese curds ($6) and edamame ($5) and all four of us enjoyed both. Made with tiny white cheddar curds, they had an usually light color and taste, and were served with a different, but also tasty orange dipping sauce. The edamame was cooked right and had the perfect amount of salt.

Friends told me how the seafood arrives at the table at MBC, but it still surprised me. Our server dropped off three double plastic bags containing our king crab legs ($29.99 for one pound), Dungeness crab (one 2-pound crab at $15.99 per pound was $31.98) and lobster (1.25 pounds for $19.99).

For each, we were given a choice of flavor and add-on. The flavors are original Cajun, garlic butter and lemon pepper. Or you can choose a combination of all three, which we did for the snow crab legs. The three add-ons are: mini ears of corn, red potatoes and sausage. All are worth ordering.

Customers are also asked about heat level: Mild, medium, hot or fire. We went with mild because of the kids at our table, but even “mild” packed a bit of heat.

The plastic bags arrive with plenty of liquid at the bottom and the sauces made the whole outing extra messy. We were given cracking tools as well as plastic bibs and thin plastic gloves. The tables are covered with thick, white paper, and each table is equipped with a roll of paper towels because this is a sloppy business.

“How do I look?” asked my adult companion with a grin after she put on her “Time to get cracking!” bib.

Mad Boiling Crab interior

Mad Boiling Crab owners Tony Chen and Xi Cheng have given the space a fantastic makeover. It has a sleek look with black leather chairs and booths and interior brick walls that are painted white.

We knew how to crack the snow crab and lobster, and our extremely helpful waitress offered to help us get started by cracking open the body of the large Dungeness crab. She also cracked open the body of the lobster, noting that we had a female with lots of small red eggs or roe. These are considered a delicacy by some, and she encouraged us to eat them, but we just couldn’t.

Some people also eat the green insides or internal organs of the lobster called tomalley or tamali. We passed on that, too, just eating the interior meat and the meat inside the claws. The tail, which holds the most meat, was not included. Had I known, I would’ve just ordered a lobster tail, listed separately on the menu.

Mad Boiling Crab gets its seafood from a variety of suppliers, including Fortune Fish and Empire Fish Company, six days a week, co-owner Tony Chen said.

“I love seafood myself,” Chen said in a text. “I grew up eating them, and seafood is a costly food, so when I came up (with) operating a seafood restaurant like MBC, my concept is to offer seafood lovers to be able to treat themselves as often as possible without breaking their bank by offering fair and reasonable price.”

The sauces in the bags helped flavor the shellfish, but did a better job of adding interest to the potatoes and corn. Chen said the seafood is boiled in a pot and later put in a bag that gets shaken with the seasonings.

I would have preferred having the sauce, or drawn butter, served in a cup on the side for dipping. It would’ve made for a neater experience and would have better enhanced the lobster and crab. The third add on, andouille sausage, was cut thinly and was wonderfully spicy.

Mad Boiling Crab exterior

Mad Boiling Crab is in the former AJ Bombers location at the corner of Gorham and Henry streets, across from the Plaza Tavern.

Chen owns the place with his uncle, Xi Cheng. They’ve given the room a fantastic makeover from its days as AJ Bombers, which had a theme-park feel. It now has a sleek look with black leather upholstery on the high-backed booths and some interior brick walls that are painted white.

The sea motif is expressed with a small lighthouse near the main doors and a boat steering wheel and life preserver on the wall. TVs, showing sports and news, were muted, in favor of a dinnertime soundtrack heavy on Adele. A bar sits on the middle of the room, but the restaurant is still seeking a liquor license.

Chen opened Sushi Express on campus in 2013 and sold it last year. With Cheng, he also owned the nearby Asian Kitchen in the mall beneath Wasabi on State Street. They sold the Chinese carryout and delivery business two years ago to prepare to open Mad Boiling Crab. Both men cooked at Asian Kitchen and they also help in the kitchen at the new place, adding more Cajun touches than Asian.

Service at the crab house was excellent, starting with our waitress bringing out mugs of ice water with slices of lemon.

If it can continue to offer reasonably-priced seafood near State Street, it should have a long and healthy life.

So, Madison, let’s get cracking!

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Wisconsin State Journal food writer Samara Kalk Derby brings you the latest news on the Madison area's eclectic restaurant scene.