This Detroit Restaurant Is the Next Big Thing in Seafood Boils (and Pork Chops)
Sloppy Crab, a new seafood restaurant in downtown Detroit, opened to an eager audience last summer. Now, on any given Sunday, there's a butt in nearly every high-backed chair, with customers gazing up at sports on flatscreens as they tuck into decadent seafood boils.
Situated right across from the Renaissance Center inside the former Briggs Detroit sports bar, Sloppy Crab is a welcome departure from other casual dining spots that are catering to the resurgent downtown Detroit audience.
The fast-growing "Sloppy" brand was conceived by Mike Brown, who is also the owner of Sloppy Chops, a restaurant that opened in Northwest Detroit on Six Mile at the onset of COVID-19 shutdowns in March 2020. It quickly became a draw for the neighborhood.
"The name 'sloppy' just came about as a joke really; it just stuck," says Brown. "Chef Al [Maxley] and the other executive chefs can get dirty in the kitchen. Chef Al has been a part of every establishment that I've opened since I first owned a liquor license when I was 25. He brings good food and creative ideas and we add the ambiance. It just works." He adds, "We're like brothers. We trust each other and listen to each other."
Sloppy Crab, unlike the many grab-and-go seafood spots in Detroit, doesn't serve seafood out of brown, grease-soaked bags. The restaurant invites diners to come in, sit down, and make themselves at home in the warmly hued dining room filled with the familiar, intoxicating scent of onions, spices, and garlic. Its most successful menu item — the seafood boil — includes a decadent take on this traditional meal with king crab, jumbo shrimp, lobster, baby corn, potatoes, and andouille sausage simmered in a thick sloppy seafood sauce, made of a combination of some sweet and some sour "secret" seasoning.
"We were able to keep both restaurants open because the people of Detroit just kept coming, and even though the dining room wasn't open, we kept the curbside popping," Brown says. Before opening restaurants, he developed nightclubs, including the former Club XO on Seven Mile and Club Status on Eight Mile. Brown is a budding empire builder, with two restaurants operating in the city and plans to open another Sloppy Chops down the street on East Jefferson this summer.
"We're trying to compete with Ocean Prime and Joe Muer's," says Brown, "But we still want a casual environment where people feel comfortable to stay for a while."
Making patrons feel comfortable is just as important as serving excellent food when it comes to succeeding in downtown Detroit. After launching last summer, Sloppy Chops had to regroup, restaff, and expand because of the demand. "We're trying to get downtown to run like Six Mile," says Brown, noting that hiring and retaining staff has been challenging. "Our daily patrons were so happy to have a steak house in their neighborhood that we became busy fast. For us, we just had to adjust and we grabbed more phone lines to accommodate the demand and the neighborhood did the rest."
Brown's ambitions for the Sloppy brand are big–and growing. He plans to open Sloppy Chops and Sloppy Crab outputs in Atlanta, Houston, and Miami "with upscale environments known for their great cuisine and atmosphere," says Brown. "The fact that we are Black men — my partners, Chef Al and I — competing against some of the biggest seafood and steak houses means something. It pushes us to work harder. But I've learned to take things slow and really build the Sloppy brand until we are operating at perfection."
Sloppy Crab is located at 519 East Jefferson, Detroit; open 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Tuesday through Sunday.