Soft Shell Crab By the Pound Resurfaces at EZ Cafe

Way back in October 2008, Zach called the soft shell crabs at Café Duke (on 51st btw. 6+7th) “the greatest thing I’ve ever seen at a by the pound buffet.” The problem was that not only were the crabs a seasonal item, availability varied from day to day. I fully admit to periodically checking the Café Duke on 41st just in case, and I haven’t seen the crabs yet this year (and the season is coming to a close!).  So you can imagine my surprise when during standard recon on unassuming new generic deli EZ Café (8th ave. btw 38+39th), replacing the similarly generic Rainbow Gourmet Deli, I spotted the white whale of Midtown Lunch’ing.

EZ Café is completely a poor man’s Café Duke. Nearly every item on their hot and cold buffets looks exactly like a less appetizing version of a dish at Duke’s. And they have fewer choices. Obviously, there isn’t a whole lot of innovation at these generic delis (that’s why we call them that), but I was still struck by some of the similarities (including Zach’s beloved fake shrimp). Aside from the $6.99/lb buffets, EZ offers some premade sushi, drinks, and not a whole lot else.

But who cares when their hot buffet is capped off by soft shell crab (at an even lower price than Café Duke). The crabs were barely warm by the time I plucked a few of the last remaining intact specimens from this tray. They have no breading or adornment of any kind, really upping the barbarism factor (not to mention the fear factor.) And aren’t those the only two good reasons for eating soft shell crabs at a place like this? The crab bodies were a little bit soggy, but the legs provided a satisfying crunch. And they were packed with “mustard” giving them a funky flavor that totally overwhelmed the timid crabmeat. I still enjoyed the hell out of them (I like the mustard) and would gladly go back just for the experience. Who but us Midtown office drones get to do stuff like this?

The rest of my meal was totally unspectacular. Everything was edible, but nothing was particularly memorable, or even exactly what I would call good. And I’d much rather have had a similarly composed plate of food from Café Duke. From the hot buffet I got the crabs, an egg roll, bourbon chicken (I think) and a chicken wing. From the cold buffet I chose some sort of snap pea/shrimp/octopus salad (which was actually pretty good – the snap peas were super crunchy and tasted really fresh), portobello, beets, a “seafood” salad, and the aforementioned fake shrimp. It came to $7.31. I tried so much stuff largely because I was a little afraid of the crabs. When I go back, I won’t bother.

On my way out after (sort of) enjoying my meal in their small upstairs dining area, I noticed that there were no crabs left. Much like at Duke, I suspect it will be hard to count on them having them any given day. But I know for a fact that EZ Café had them Thursday and Friday of last week.

I consider myself a fearless eater, but there were many thoughts racing through my head before I bit into these crabs. And many of them were not pretty at all. Still, I suffered no ill effects from any of the food afterward. And in the process had a uniquely Midtown experience. Sure the crabs weren’t the best, or even very good from an objective standpoint, but this sort of thrill seeking is part of what makes me love Midtown Lunch’ing. I’d gladly do it all over again.

The + (What somebody who likes this place would say)

  • They have soft shell crab at a $6.99/lb buffet!
  • Finally, a cheaper, less-tasty version of Café Duke
  • I feel like a badass when I devour whole crabs that I just bought from a sketchy by the pound buffet

The – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)

  • The food, including the crab, isn’t particularly good
  • They have fewer options that the very comprehensive Café Duke
  • I’m scared of soft shell crabs from a by the pound buffet

EZ Cafe, 572 8th Ave (btw 38+39th), 212-921-8141


  • User has not uploaded an avatar

    That has to be one of the least appetizing lunches I have ever seen on ML. Woof.

  • That deli scares me. Big-time. If you must do the generic deli steam table, you would be better served by going across the street to Village 38.

  • User has not uploaded an avatar

    I just had the soft shell crabs at Café Duke (on 51st btw. 6+7th). They were crispy and delicious. The other items I tried (dumplings, chicken, shrimp) were also very good and a little spicy. I highly recommend it.

Leave a Reply

You must log in or register to post a comment.