It’s Friday night and my boyfriend and I are in the mood for a celebratory dinner. The kind of dinner that kicks the workweek to the curb. The kind of meal that calls for wetnaps. Luckily for us, this meal awaits at Bookers BBQ Grill & Crab Shack.
Bookers has been around since ’98, but underwent considerable renovations this past fall to launch a space with exposed brick walls and warm wood booths. Think industrial meets Coyote Ugly — including the server’s uniforms.
We start with a round of Caesars ($6.25). They’re tasty, but missing the advertised garnish of a pickled bean. Perusing the menu, we notice it is vastly different from the one we previewed online. Our server tells us that they are on chef No. 3 since the reno and that the menu has changed many times since then. Too bad, we were looking forward to trying some of the starters featured online. Not sure what to get, we go for the blackened tuna tacos ($12).
First off, two tacos perched on a white plate does not make for a good presentation. The flavour is OK, but when I think of blackened tuna and pico de gallo, I think of a vibrant wallop of flavour. These were more like a light tap. Fresh enough but not feisty. It might be time to start over with the starters.
If this review is giving you a bad impression of Bookers, then this is where I set the record straight. The dish to get is the Bookers Platter ($60 for two), a massive tray of snow crab legs, crab cakes, brisket, ribs, coleslaw, yam fries, baked beans and biscuits. Holy F*$k.
I admit to being hesitant at this point. I think to myself: “Sure there’s a ton of food in front of me, but will it be good?” The answer is yes: God, yes.
We start off with the crab’s legs. Booker’s doesn’t skimp in the crab department and we had a massive portion of legs to crack, de-shell and dip into the candlelit butter before us. Fresh and plentiful with a side of fresh lemon wedges and a bucket for discards, the seafood renews our spirits.
On the side is a bowl of warm baked beans bursting with flavour; sweet and savoury, they are a great accompaniment. We’re not as crazy about the runny coleslaw, but we’re glad it’s there to counteract the smoky ribs slathered with Kansas City barbecue sauce. These ribs are fall-off-the-bone tender, with a solid kick of heat and sweetness.
Alongside the ribs is the amazing brisket with Carolina sauce. After visiting the Carolinas last year, I was expecting a sauce with strong vinegar flavour, but this sauce focused on the sweet side of the spectrum. Soft and loaded with flavour, this is a brisket that aims to please.
Beyond the coleslaw, I’d say the only other item we aren’t crazy about are the crab cakes. Once again, I probably had the best crab cake I’ll ever have in Baltimore last year, so I’m a tough judge, but this cake was blah. The batter wasn’t crisp and the crab was mushy. The red pepper aioli was good though.
When it’s all said and done we have almost half a platter of food packed up for leftovers, along with a key lime tart ($9) for later that night.
The tart, like the starter, is only OK. The pastry is heavier than one would hope and the lime is actually lemon. We eat it on the couch while watching Precious and feel bad.
My best advice is to skip both the starters and dessert and focus on the awesome crab and barbecue at Bookers. Beyond a shaky start and a less-than-glorious end to the meal, this is by far the best barbecue I’ve ever had in Calgary. There. I said it.