Don't judge a book by its cover. It's a phrase that has been tried, tested and proven throughout the ages, and I found myself thinking of this particular idiom when I first encountered the restaurant known as Seafood by Crushed Velvet. I had looked at some reviews prior to trying this restaurant, and I'd be lying if I said it looked like a place that would provide an unforgettable dining experience upon first glance, but luckily for myself and my dining companion, that's exactly what happened.
When I first came to the location I was supposed to be at, I originally thought I had made a wrong turn, because the awning above the restaurant actually advertised for a different restaurant. Le Sweet Caffe is a restaurant that, from what I understand, was known for its coffees and brunch-type items and I knew that was the opposite of what I was looking for. There was a nice gentlemen in the doorway that was sweeping up the sidewalk and setting up for the day, and he assured us that we had actually come to the right place. When inspected a bit closer, there was a sign advertising for Seafood by Crushed Velvet that was situated by the door and it was quite an original one at that. The sign was comprised of a blackboard featuring different specials and it had an impressive free-handed crawdad made of chalk. I had time to enjoy the sign and the local atmosphere after being informed that there would be a bit of wait, but that it would definitely be worth it.
Luckily for me, I came to this restaurant on a gorgeous day and there were some very nice tables that had been set up outside the restaurant with umbrellas for shade, and honestly I didn't mind the wait at all. If you should find yourself coming to this restaurant and the weather doesn't necessarily allow for relaxing at a table while you wait, there is a multitude of places to explore all over the immediate vicinity. I find myself wanting to go back both because of the experience but also because of a hope of seeing the interior of a few more shops, and the fact that all of the locals I had the pleasure of meeting during my wait time were beyond polite only added to the loveliness of the afternoon.
At noon, we were graciously invited to come inside, and as soon as I made it inside, I was shocked. There was nothing that could have prepared me for the charm of this place just from having observed it from my waiting place directly outside of the restaurant. It was smaller than I expected, having only about 6 tables with a total of 3 or 4 chairs at each, but the atmosphere made it feel as though the amount of seating was just right. I immediately noticed a chalkboard when I first walked in, and I loved how it appeared as though everyone who had come into the restaurant had left their names and little messages underneath a sign that stated simply “No Crabby Attitudes”. That sign, along with the muted lighting and gorgeous artwork that lined the walls, made myself and my companion feel at ease as soon as we entered, and it was that feeling stayed all throughout the lunch experience.
After we had found a table and settled in, we noticed the bucket on the table meant to catch crab and lobster shells, as well as shrimp tails, and that our table that had been covered in vintage comics from papers long since passed, all covered in a muted glaze that didn't demand attention, but rather offered a subtle surprise for those lucky enough to notice it. Almost as soon as we had become settled, we were offered drinks which were brought very soon after the order had been placed and they were placed on the table in mason jar cups which only helped to add to the experience. When we looked at the menu, we were taken aback because it was simply a one page menu, but after scanning it, we realized that it fit our needs perfectly, and that it almost matched the sign we had observed during our wait time. That aside though, we knew we had come for seafood, and that seemed to be everything the menu was comprised of, which helped take the guesswork out of the decision making process. I myself am not a big fan of large menus because I always seem to have trouble deciding, and when I do order something, I find myself occasionally regretting the decision when seeing what others around me have ordered, and thinking I may have made the wrong choice. In this situation though, that wasn't the case.
I decided to try a Half Platter of Snow Crab, and my lunch partner ordered a half shrimp platter. We were surprised at just how quickly everything was brought, but we were informed that the people who are employed at this establishment come in early every day that they are open so that they can start boiling seafood to provide a shorter wait time to all of the people who chance upon it. The food was simply delicious and the portions were quite large and extremely reminiscent of a Louisiana style seafood boil. The way our dishes were served, with the sausage, boiled potato, corn on the cob and seasoning made the presentation of it quite memorable.
During the meal, we found ourselves discussing business matters and noticing how the muted feel of the restaurant encouraged conversation, without making us feel the need to raise our voices over other diners or loud music just to be heard. There was quite soft R&B music playing in the background, and with the low lighting of the restaurant, it almost encouraged people to take time, slow down, and enjoy the conversational opportunity as well as the food. We had the pleasure of talking to the young man that served us upon completion of our meal, and we learned that he was attending a local college, and he was in such high spirits that we found his conversation only added to the nice dining atmosphere. When we left the restaurant, we met the proprietor and I'd be lying if I said she wasn't just as nice as the young man we were lucky enough to have the conversation with. She asked if we enjoyed our meal, if everything was to our liking and she asked these questions with genuine interest, which is something you don't get very much of nowadays. We assured her that every aspect of our lunch had exceeded expectations, and she expressed her hope of seeing us again. It was a lovely end to a wonderful lunch.
Everything about this lunch experience was top notch. I enjoyed the surprise I encountered when I walked in, and I definitely kept thinking back to the phrase “you can't judge a book by its cover”. If you love authentic seafood and you want a place you can go to get away from the stress and hassle of the day, you would do well to give this place a try. I know some might see this place from the outside and want to keep driving, but if you find yourself doing this as well, just know that you are truly missing out on one of the greatest hidden gems that Belleville has to offer in this reviewer's opinion.
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