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Mad City Crab House

Update 11/08: Mad City Crab House is now the Tiki Shack and Crabhouse; also, recovered photos have been added to this post.

Mad City Crab HouseIn a word: Made us a little crabby.

The specs: #0356
Address, hours & details via Isthmus; reviews at Madison Dining Online, Isthmus, Antenna of Babel, State Street Beat, Queer Supper Club, Yelp, Ruppert Food Blog; chatter at TDPF; official web site.

JM ate the garlic penne pasta with shrimp and a lemonade.
Nichole ate the Mad City seared salmon with a diet Coke (in a Pepsi glass).
We split the clam chowder and a slice of key lime pie.
The bill was $39, or $19.50/person, plus tip.
JM gave Mad City Crab House a C-; Nichole gave Mad City Crab House an F (see our grading rubric).

Latest Mad City Crab House news and reviews

Mad City’s atmosphere is pleasant, with bright but not obnoxious colors, big leafy fake plants, and the requisite wooden fish, faux seaside signage and buoys, etc. The comfort suffers, however, because the plates are just too big for the tables. If we’d had to deal with crab leg shells we’d have been up to our ears in stuff.

Clam chowderThe clam chowder was dirt cheap ($2 with a meal, sans crackers) and tasted quite good, with notes of thyme and rosemary and a good smoky flavor. It was incredibly thick and not quite hot, however, suggesting a neglected tureen.

Garlic penne pastaJM’s hopes for pasta with seafood never quite pan out. This dish of garlic penne with four jumbo shrimp had one, maybe two flavor notes, which got boring quickly. To be more precise, it started out boring, then when the butter melted, it got interesting. By the end, though, it was again suffering from a pronounced overbuttering. His lemonade (on the bill as “juice”) tasted like RealLemon with sugar.

Key lime pieFast forward to the pie, a huge wedge of key lime custard advertised on the menu as “made with Nellie and Joe’s Key West Lime Juice” and dressed up in whipped cream. Hidden underneath the cream, however, was a stratum of the original decoration, a border of thicker, commercial-style, "palm kernel, soy or coconut-oil"-based rosettes. When asked where the pie was from, our server said it was made in-house from a mix. If we were asked to guess, we might think this pie bore more than a passing resemblance to the kind Schwan’s “makes.” At least it wasn’t bright green.

Salmon, brie and asparagus

Finally, the salmon Nichole ordered had a very serious quality problem that she only discovered in the leftovers. Since it was a challenge to give Mad City Crab House the opportunity to make it right (phone failed to connect at 310-6933; manager absent when we re-visited - and hostess gave us the brushoff; no email address on web site) we feel it’s not appropriate to go into the somewhat lurid details. Let’s just say that the idea of tangy raspberry sauce, creamy Brie and salmon is a decent one, worth trying at home with fish you can trust.


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Yeah, your post reeks of euphemism. Let us know what that "very serious quality problem" was.

Wow, that's poor customer service...

Considering you tried multiple ways to contact them over a period of time, their phone number doesn't work [alarming for a restaurant], and their website doesn't have an email address [which are ubiquitous]. I feel you should tell the whole story.

That does sound like bad service. Beware the questionable seafood.

We came here a couple times to try and get some good crab cakes. Not so good. And a bit overpriced. The second trip I tried the fish and chips, and have to say it was in the bottom 20% in Madison, which is a top notch fish and chips town. I'd expect a place like this to be amongst the best from the name, though.

Like the other commenters, I'm curious: what happened with Nichole's fish? Is this an avoid-at-all-costs problem of an unsanitary nature? I know you're reluctant to say, but it leaves your readers imagining the worst...

Then you're on the right track.

My wife was VERY excited when we learned that this place offered Stone Crab when we discovered it last summer. Needless to say, we were served a warm(??) dish of dismally small crab legs slathered in melted butter (!?!). It was messy and tasteless. Overall there was little redeeming about that place.

Ive been there twice, and had two awful experiences. The first time I was adventurous, and tried blue crab for the first time. I had no idea how to eat them... and my waitress actually laughed when i told her that, and walked away! the next time she came back i commented something like 'well, they /smell/ great, if only i knew how to get the meat out' she laughed and walked away again!!!

The next time was frozen king crab legs. Pretty hard to screw those up, but the side dishes for both of us were nearly inedible (obviously processed ingredients), and the bill is insane for the level of service you get.

OK i'm going to just start guessing. 2-1 odds it's pubic hair, 5-1 it's an insect, and 10-1 a fingernail.

I'm torn between wanting to know and not wanting to know. We tried this place when it first opened and thought it was pretty decent, although that was some time ago. Sounds like it may have went down hill.

@Timmy - keep guessing... your 5:1 is closest.

Rotting fish? some sort of larvae?

I am frightened but also really curious. Nichole, what was it? A bandaid? a contact lens? Jimmy Hoffa's remains?

Was it a roach? The bad reviews are so much fun to read :)

3-1, part of a mouse

Come on, kids. You know your public is gonna hound you until you tell all.

6-1, asbestos

I'm guessing worms or some sort of fish parasite. But I'm going to stop thinking about it now, because it's making me feel a bit nauseated.

Nichole and JM, we must know! What was in the salmon?

It must be worms.

I'm guessing worms too - just because that seems the logical item to find inside a fish.

This is why I don't eat fish.

I ate there once, nearly a year ago. IT WAS MY ANNUAL BIRTHDAY DINNER, and it was the WORST ONE EVER. My mom had the crabcakes and they were decent, but not special, as I remember them. She thinks they're among the best she's ever had. I have no idea what my Dad or my girlfriend ordered.

I had the crab quesadillas. Note: I do not like onion. I like onion flavor, but not large pieces of onion. I did not order my quesadilla sans onion, but neither did the menu mention in the last that the quesadilla is almost entirely onion. A big, gummy flour tortilla filled with gigantic strips of raw red onion - at least the equivilant of 1.5 onions - a slice or two of american or otherwise processed cheese, and some strips of Louis Kemp's imitation crab legs. The pineapple salsa was a spoonful or two of canned diced pineapple with some more red onion and a lone cilantro leaf, and the the lime cream was sour cream with lime juice.

Since I didn't eat, at least I got a buzz from the acidic cocktails.

Oh, no. I will chime in and BEG you to tell us what was in that fish! Please, please, please? Either way... after reading this review and the comments, I'm pretty confident that I'll never, ever dine there :( Too bad. I like seafood.

To answer your question about the SPECIFIC problem with the fish. See Timmy's post on July 23, basically it was a fish parasite that can ALSO affect people, if alive.

I had the salmon the one time I went there. I figured they couldn't screw up broiled salmon. While my experience wasn't as bad as Nichole's, it was still really bad. The fish was dry as could be, flavorless, and the sauce didn't mesh well with it.

I eat there at lunch all the time, I think it's great. I also have to agree, salmon filets do have a stripe down the middle so I think she may be mistaken thinking it was a worm.

Has Nichole revealed publicly what the problem was? I don't think so. So it might have been a worm, or that might just be some people's best guess. But JM and Nichole aren't idiots. They know what a "stripe" is.

Yes, clearly Nichole and JM have decided, after four years and hundreds of reviews, to be vindictive and pick on an establishment for NO REASON AT ALL.

I am guessing the snarky comments may be coming from the same quality customer service individuals written about in the review. The ones who refused phone calls and brushed off a concerned customer (Nicole)when they came to talk about their meal. REGARDLESS of what the issue was - if you want repeat customers you listen to the concerns.

And I highly doubt that a person who eats fish on a regular basis would confuse the stripe on a salmon filet for something wrong with the dish.

No, my professor used to tell us stories back in food bacteriology about this. It's common in farm raised fish because it spreads easily in their holding tanks. The effect on humans if the parasites are alive can be pretty bad but even dead, I'd be pretty disgusted to find them.

So I guess it's safe to assume from the silence of our hosts that we're talking about a worm in the salmon?

I cook and eat A LOT of fish and I'll find cod worm or herring worm about twice a year in expensive fish from upscale stores. It's not an issue of quality, it's just an inevitable part of dealing with fresh fish. You would hope that a restaurant could catch a glipse of the worms before serving the fish, but that's just not possible in every case.

It really shouldn't turn you off fish entirely though. All food has risks. Just think of all the tumors you've scarfed down in steaks over the years, or all the rat feces in your corn flakes. Feel better?

Don't forget insect parts in your peanut butter!

Let's say it was a worm of some sort. Kinda seems like a good reason to leave it out of the review in the absence of comment or redress from MCCH, yes? Since there probably wasn't much they could have done to prevent the situation?

I think the dissembling about where the pie came from is just as bad, if not worse, considering it seems to be blatant misrepresentation.

I agree with Jason and Kyle. What made the dinner so revolting wasn't that salmon could possibly have worms--it's a disgusting but rare occurrence in fish... it's that mad city crab was negligent in preparation and then supremely negligent in customer service. My visits there spoke more to mediocrity of food quality, but seeing that Nichole and JM will often generously give an "A" to a restaurant for serving a microwaved pizza but having a nice staff, I believe their assessment and won't be returning to this restaurant.

Tumors in steaks? What are you talking about, Jason? If an animal had a tumor, I'm pretty sure you could see it in the peice of meat you were eating. Also, when a farmer sends a cow to market, if a tumor is found, the farmer has to return the money he recived for that animal and it is removed from the human food chain. So really, I have no idea what makes you think you're eating tumors in your steaks.

Um, four and a half years as a butcher is what makes me think I may very well be eating tumors in my steaks. The big ones are obvious because they really mess up the grain of the meat and you can get a sense that one is near your cut even without seeing it. But there are plenty of small ones in steaks and larger ones in roasts that never get revealed because they're in the middle of the cut of meat.

Sorry to break it to you, but that's just part of eating animals. Hasn't stopped me from enjoying them.

And glands are even grosser than tumors, but I still see an occasional store-bought chuck roast where the lymph hasn't been completely removed. It's a jungle out there (props to Upton Sinclair)

I have eaten at Mad City Crab House a few times, and the food I have had was great. The crab legs are so yummy... Service was good, and the drink I had was good and fruity.. I think everyone has to go for themselves and check it out, and not listen to one persons comment.. Oh, and the crab cakes are really good.....

This place is disgusting beyond words. I just posted a full review on Yelp for those interested.

The highlight? Getting served totally raw (as in, sashimi raw) salmon in a dish where is was supposed to be cooked. This place is so fundamentally awful it as beyond repair as restaurants get.

I have been there several times and find the food actually very good. The service is good and laid back which I perfer because it takes me away from the daily fast pace most of us live every day. Every restaurant has an item you may not like, my advice is get over it and try a different item. Life is too short.

After all this, MCCH is now closed. I thought I saw moai statues in that same space not too long ago. Linda at TDP informs us that this is indeed the case.

Kyle -- Did it CLOSE or just change names??? The new place their is also a seafood place, which is why I am wondering.

Yeah, after I posted that comment I checked the Eats list, and it still seems to be focusing on seafood. Won't know without going, and I'm not getting in that line.

There's a line?

Conspiracy theorists that we are, we figure they might have changed the name to force us to go again.

You could just call them up and find out that way, just act like you didn't know the restaurant had changed. Barring that you could always go and have a quick look at the menu. IF it is the SAME place, you probably want to change the posting title to the NEW name and give the old name below.

PS: If you decide to skip it when you get to the T's, I won't mind!!! :-)

That's like 9 kinds of heresy in a 2 pound bag.

LOL you guys need to do something with your lives besides bitching about what someone else is doing with theirs. I'm sure Nicole will erase this but seriously you guys are too funny. Try to enjoy the rest of your lives

...says the person who posted here four months after the conversation effectively ended.

oh no no, wait! i am starting up the conversation again! that last pic with the sickly looking slab of fish with brie flopped on top (salmon...well, maybe...?), the baton sized spears of asparagus, and the lemon wedge served with seeds visible. well, it's obvious there was not much thought put into this plate. i would have sent it back and walked out without a second thought. the pic says it all. yikes!!!

Worst restaurant experience I have ever had in Madison. The blue crab was disgusting and the King crab legs were so overcooked they were like mush. If you are going to name your restaurant "Crab Shack" you should know what the hell you are doing when cooking crab.

Glad it is closed.

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