There is no skirting the fact – The Captain’s Boil has some of the absolute best and yet still affordable seafood in Toronto. The franchise – now with numerous locations in the city to address the growing demand, includes York Mills, North York, Little Italy, Bayview, and Scarborough, with new locations slated for Markham, Montreal, Newmarket, Waterloo and a few more to the downtown core – serves some of the freshest seafood in the city in a classic “boil style”. This steamed seafood includes lobster, crawfish, mussels, and king crab legs to name just a few, tossed in one of four of special sauce blends, adjusted to the preferred heat level and served in a plastic bag. The dinner is equipped with food grade plastic gloves, a plastic bib, and a paper towel roll. This is the best kind of down and dirty messy eating, where you lick your fingers and find any leftover morsel of food to soak up more of that incredible sauce.
The restaurant began in Canada with a group of 4 founders in their mid 40’s. One partner had the chance to experience this unique way of eating seafood during her travels and introduced it to the other partners. With their hospitality background, the group worked tirelessly for 8 months to source the best ingredients in order to create and perfect the most delicious sauces to pair with the seafood boils. Thus, The Captain’s Boil was born.
I feel a bit late to the game when it comes to exploring this restaurant. The franchise already has numerous glowing reviews on Yelp, Facebook, and Google. What I have to say will simply echo those sentiments. There are so many things that speak to me about this restaurant. First, the atmosphere of the place on a busy night – and any night is busy, in particular, the downtown location located at Yonge and College. It was the Monday evening when my review partner and I attended, which is often the quietest night for restaurants and usually seen as the worst night of the week to order seafood – yet this locale was bustling, warm and inviting.
Given the nature of eating with your hands out of bags (there are no utensils or plates, and you are free to make as big a mess as you want as everything gets tossed after you’re done; even your drinking glass is a plastic cup) there is no pretense of fine dining here. You can bring your family or your friends, you can have a casual dinner or celebrate a special occasion and you don’t have to wear your best clothes. You come to The Captain’s Boil, kick back and relax. Most importantly, you need to love, and I mean LOVE, seafood.
When placing your order, you first start with your preferred catch. This is seasonal, of course, and currently, the best items on the menu are the crawfish and the king crab leg. Feel free to choose more than one catch depending on your appetite and the size of your crowd. Second, choose your sauce – Cajun Cajun, Lemon Pepper, Garlic Sauce or the unique Captain’s Boil blend which is a combination of the first three. I highly suggest opting for the Captain’s Boil blend; your taste buds will not be disappointed. Third, you choose your preferred heat level which ranges from non-spicy to mild, medium and ‘fire’. Our server suggested that medium was actually quite spicy so we kept our fare ranging from mild to medium so as to avoid drowning the taste of sweet crab legs with spice. Medium was certainly spicy and flavorful but nowhere near fiery.
We stuck with the Captain’s Boil signature sauce and opted for a pound of crawfish (seasonal price) in the medium sauce, the king crab leg ($36.95 per pound, which is actually one crab leg and it is massive) in the mild sauce, a pound of mussels ($10.95 per pound) complete with sides of lotus root chips ($3.95) and sausages ($6.95) in the bag for optimal sauce absorption also in the medium sauce, Cajun fries (4.95), and six fresh oysters (seasonal price). This feast of plenty totalled just over $100 after taxes, making The Captain’s Boil a very reasonably priced dining destination for seafood in Toronto.
Of course, the food was simply delightful – the massive king crab leg was sweet and succulent, the mussels large and plump, the crawfish were painful on the fingers to get into as there are a lot of sharp edges on those guys and, frankly, not a lot of meat… but their tails were delicious. I loved our choice of sides – the lotus root was something I hadn’t seen on many western menus previously so I had to try them. They were crisp and juicy and complemented the sauce beautifully, same with the sausages which were simply bursting with flavor. The sauce is magical. You can taste the hints of the lemon pepper, the garlic, and the Cajun spice and it blends beautifully together. We had the option of getting our sides separately or mixed in with one of the seafood options so the sides could absorb the sauce. Do opt for getting your sides in the bag with the sauce, you won’t regret it. The Cajun fries had a wonderful spicy kick to them and the oysters were the perfect fresh palette cleanser.
The various sides at The Captain’s Boil do take the restaurant a step above with other options like Cajun seafood fried rice ($10.95), okra ($5.95), or the fried shrimp basket with Cajun fries ($12.95). If you come for lunch, the sizzling plate combos are worth trying. Their fish or chicken teriyaki plates complete with a seafood platter of two of each: mussels, shrimps, crawfish, and clams, is a steal for $10.95. The chicken options work well for those in your party who prefer the turf over the surf.
The amenities of the location are great additions to the whole experience. I found that the plastic gloves given are not the best; they’re porous which means despite wearing them your hands will get greasy and slick with sauce. You can run to the washroom or use the convenient hand washing sink at the front of the house to rinse off. Another fun fact, their plastic bags are for serving and not steaming or boiling. They are food grade quality, BPA free and FPA approved. If you want to order takeout, the seafood comes in the bags and you are instructed to immerse the whole bag in a pot of hot water for no longer than five minutes.
While writing this, I already want to go back and I’m planning what I want to order next (I want to try the shrimps and clams, indulge in lobster, and have a side of okra and the Cajun seafood rice). Once you experience The Captain’s Boil once, I assure that you’ll feel the same way.
Article and Photos by Samantha Wu