Outside diners at Mr. Friendly’s in Five Points enjoy an evening of good food and conversation. Mr. Friendly’s is one of the restaurants serving soft-shell crab while they’re in season. (Photo by Amanda Petty/Carolina News and Reporter)

Feeling crabby? Columbia area eateries will do in a pinch to crab-tivate your beach-iness.

When a crab molts its hard exoskeleton, it is soft underneath. Then, it must be removed from the water quickly before its new shell hardens. 

Soft-shell crab is available only for a short period each year. Jeff Brunson, crustacean manager at the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, said the spawning of blue crabs lasts for six weeks to two months in the spring. 

‘It’s been a pretty good year for soft shell crabs,” Brunson said. “Based on seasonal influence, environmental factors play a key role in the timing of things – and sometimes the abundance we see out there. But from what I’m hearing and seeing, it looks like a pretty good year.”

Soft-shell crab is one of local resident Michael Crouch’s favorite things in the world. 

“It’s the crunchiness, the texture and I think the lack of being able to get it all year round,” he said. “It’s like a treat.”

Crouch was dining Tuesday night at Mr. Friendly’s, a Southern cafe in Five Points, serving the crustacean. Crouch said it’s the best in town. 

“It is definitely a specialty down in the Carolinas,” said Blake Justice, Mr. Friendly’s general manager. “They’re not available anywhere else, especially in the manner we get them.”

Howard Stephens, executive chef at Market on Main, said the reason South Carolinians love soft-shell crab so much is because of the limited quantity and the taste. 

‘If you love crab, there’s no way you can’t like it,” Stephens said. 

There are many ways to prepare soft-shell crab, from sauteing to grilling to boiling. But Stephens likes to fry them. 

There’s no taste difference between hard-shell and soft-shell crab, he said. With hard shell, the meat mostly comes from the body, but with soft shell, it is all of it – legs and all. 

“And then, when you’re doing soft shell, you’re frying every bit of it, so you have that whole crab flavor throughout the whole thing,” he said. 

Because of the short season, these soft-shell crabs scuttle away quickly. But they are available at these restaurants and markets right now, while supplies last.

Among the area restaurants offering the delicacy now are:

Mr. Friendly’s

Rosewood Market


Market on Main

The War Mouth

Motor Supply 

Gervais and Vine 


Chophouse of Chapin 


The crab on a soft-shell crab sandwich will be fully intact, as opposed to the way a hard shell crab is prepared. (Photo courtesy of Market on Main/Carolina News and Reporter)

A fried soft-shell crab sandwich. Soft-shell crab season begins when the crabs shed their shells and are harvested before they find a new home. (Photo courtesy of Market on Main/Carolina News and Reporter)