Stomach at the Ready...
Some rather large people queue outside the doors of this out-of-the way restaurant half an hour before the doors open. And if the robust clientele isn't intimidating enough, wait until you enter the dining room and see the large, empty, 22-gallon barrels at the end of each table and the brown wrapping paper used for tablecloths.
The wrapping paper and barrels will make sense in a moment...
The prices are a bit high - roughly $251 for an all-you-can-eat special of either crabs, shrimp, fried chicken, or a combination of crabs and shrimp. And when your food arrives, the purpose of the wrapping paper becomes clear. The waiters simply dump a large quantity of food directly onto the table. Your eating orgy is ready to begin.
The crab special, for example, starts with a dozen boiled crabs piled in front of the eater. (And that is what guests are, really. Eaters. As opposed to, say, diners.) The eater is then expected to attack this pile of food with bare hands and a wooden mallet. Broken crab shells are tossed into another large pile or deposited directly into the aforementioned rubbish barrels.
Then it's time to eat and eat...
The restaurant also has a full bar, but beer choices are limited to a few brands on draft. Careful though - beer will take up valuable food space.
The (Slightly Dangerous) Logic
There is a particular type of logic which afflicts otherwise perfectly normal people when confronted with an all-you-can-eat situation like this - an unholy desire to 'get their money's worth'. What this means is that instead of consuming a comfortable, prudent amount of food, eaters devour heroic portions in a vain attempt to bankrupt the restaurant's owners by devouring a quantity of food greater than the value paid for the meal.
This almost never works. Still, it does result in a lot of people loosening their belts and surreptitiously belching into clenched fists as they exit the restaurant.
But the Old Mill Crab House is more than just wading through a pile of seafood. There is also a rather entertaining floor show provided for observant eaters.
This would be the frantic ballet the staff perform as they clear the remains of one meal from the table to make it ready for the next group of eaters. Each member of the staff has a clearly defined role:
One person clears the silverware and glasses from the table.
Another rolls the wrapping paper, crab carcasses and left-over food into a ball and dumps it in the waste can at the foot of the table.
A third gives the table a quick wipe with a wet rag, and then replaces the wrapping paper and utensils.
By one Researcher's watch, the staff averaged a little better than two minutes to completely clear and reset a table. This is fast enough so that the group which has just left the table actually passes the group heading to take their place, resulting in there being almost no time when a table is unoccupied.
The fact that there always seems to be somebody waiting to get in and eat is surprising given that the restaurant is off the beaten path along Cedar Neck Road. This is far enough from the beach and the usual places pandering to tourists that only a true gastro-intestinal warrior hero or successful tourists will seek it out.
Don't get us wrong. There are plenty of other options on the menu including large but not ridiculous portions of fried seafood, baked flounder stuffed with crab meat, crab cakes, and much more. And all the dishes this Researcher has sampled were well prepared.
But anyone visiting the Old Mill Crab House should at least give the all-you-can eat platters a try once. Diet or no diet.