You gotta wonder what they’re thinking when they name the restaurant “Awful Arthur’s.” Now Awesome Arthur’s” I can see. And even something like “More-Or-Less Edible Arthur’s” seems better than “Awful Arthur’s.”
I guess this is why I’m not in marketing. On a recent trip to the Awful Arthur’s in Salem, we found very little that you’d call awful. Well, “Beth” by Kiss came on the stereo, but that’s really a matter of personal taste.
The restaurant is split into a bar area and a dining room, divided by a glass-doored foyer – and therefore compliant with the new restrictions on smoking in a restaurant. We chose the dining room so we could focus on the flavor of the seafood, though I was loath to forego the big TVs in the bar area. I satisfied myself with the promise that I’d return soon to catch a game or two.
Being a world-renowned crab cake aficionado, my wife was drawn to the crab balls on the appetizer menu. It’s a sign of my good breeding and upbringing that I didn’t make a crude joke at this juncture. (Actually, she did, but I shall chivalrously protect her.) They were, true to the name, crab cakes shaped into-bite-sized balls and fried a deep, rich brown – kind of reminiscent of conch fritters – and served with a creamy mustard sauce. They had plenty of crab (though in smallish chunks) and the flavor of it balanced nicely with the bread and seasonings. I talked her into sharing some of my coconut fried shrimp appetizer, even though she’s not in love with the genre, and she was pleasantly surprised, reporting that they weren’t “too coco-nutty.”
When it comes to seafood, I’m a fan of keeping it basic, and therefore opted for the fish of the day on a sandwich. My tilapia had a wonderfully fresh flavor, and they did a good job of not letting the process of breading and frying it overpower the natural taste of the fish. Since it was a filet, the only bone I had to pick was that there was a fair bit more bun than was needed; a vast roll like that one could handle a half pound hamburger with ease.
My wife opted for the raw bar offerings, and we were wowed by her steamed Captain’s Platter. A huge tray piled high with steamed crab legs, oysters, shrimp,clams and mussels. It came with plenty of all the good things that go with steamed seafood – the de rigueur Tobasco, drawn butter and lemon – and absolutely nothing on the side. No fries or rice or steamed veg to get in the way. With this kind of spread, it’s a rookie mistake to waste your time with all the filler, anyway.
One really welcome surprise was that Arthur’s has partnered with Roanoke’s Big Daddy Brewing Company to offer a number of locally crafted beers on draft. My wife – who went to school near Abingdon and loves gardening – honored her “roots” with a Virginia Creeper pale ale, which she found to have a refreshing light body and just enough hoppiness. I opted for a Dark Side porter – rich and hearty with a pleasant bitterness.
Good food goes with good times, and we couldn’t help thinking that come this fall, we’ve got a new option for transcending the chips and dips next time we have a few people over to watch football. I spoke with Brian at the Salem location who assured me that with a little advance notice, the kitchen can put together a sampling of steamed goodies to go. Best of all, the Towers location offers growlers of Big Daddy Brewing’s wares to go. I call that a touchdown.