Courtesy of Clesi’s
Courtesy of Marjie’s Grill
At Mid-City newcomer Marjie’s Grill, sample sublime crawfish boils that combine curry, toasted lemongrass, sambal, and butter.
In New Orleans, crawfish offers more than just sustenance—it’s an entire culture all its own.
The first time I ate boiled crawfish, I was in a living room that, oddly enough, I’d soon see depicted on television. It was April of 2010, and I was visiting New Orleans with my then boyfriend (now husband).
The house, in the Treme neighborhood, belonged to his friend Davis Rogan, a native musician and local radio DJ personality whose life would soon become the basis of a central character in Treme, the former HBO series about post-Katrina New Orleans. Davis also wrote and consulted for the show, appeared as himself frequently, and eventually found himself sipping Sazeracs with Anthony Bourdain on his travel-and-food TV show, The Layover. But that afternoon, before all that, Davis was teaching me to eat crawfish.
I watched as our friend plucked from a metal mixing bowl what resembled—and tasted much like—a tiny red lobster. He held it between his index fingers and thumbs; twisted the head off and sucked the juice from it; unwrapped the top of the shell; pinched the tail; and squeezed the seasoned, spicy meat into his mouth—all in one fluid movement.
Honestly, it seemed like a lot of work for something so small. But then he and my boyfriend dug in, and I was awestruck: The shells of the boiled crawfish accumulated at a dizzying rate—I’d rarely seen anything consumed so fast.
People travel from around the world to savor New Orleans’s distinctive cuisine, but nothing says “Welcome to Louisiana” like a mountain of mudbugs.
Although the act of eating them predates colonization (Native Americans harvested them long before Europeans arrived), Cajuns sometimes spin a different tale: When their shellfish-loving Acadian ancestors were exiled from Canada in 1755, lobsters followed them. The journey south was long and arduous, however, so by the time they reached Louisiana, they’d shrunk to crawfish size.
In New Orleans, this particular crustacean means much more than just food. In spring and early summer (aka crawfish season), the culture of locals’-hosted backyard boils not only fills stomachs but also cultivates community.
Neighbors and friends gather elbow-to-elbow around newspaper-covered picnic tables, endlessly peeling (a typical serving size being 3 to 5 pounds per person) and drinking beer. Steam rises, hands get dirty, shirts get spice-splattered, mouths burn, and just when you’re about to throw in the paper-towel roll, someone dumps another mound of mudbugs on the table (plus corn on the cob, lemons, garlic, onions, potatoes, and sometimes even sausage), and you stay, and remember why you live in New Orleans—or discover why you’d want to.Where to eat crawfish in the Crescent City
With the Crescent City’s culinary scene ever evolving, local chefs are also finding new and innovative ways to prepare crawfish.
At Marjie’s Grill, a Mid-City newcomer blending Southern and Southeast Asian flavors, chef-owner Marcus Jacobs’s sublime boil combines curry, toasted lemongrass, sambal, and butter. If there’s crawfish left at day’s end, he transforms it into a mouthwatering triumph of tastes: gingery, garlicky étouffée with house-made turmeric noodles.
Meanwhile, at Uptown Asian restaurant Luvi (opened in April 2018 and already renowned for transcendent dumplings, noodles, and raw-bar delicacies), chef-owner Hao Gong plans to add to his springtime menu fried wontons with fresh crawfish tail, sweet corn, leeks, and Mala chili soy sauce—a perfect balance of heat, sweet, salt, and crunch.
And at brand-new Southern eatery Gris Gris in the Lower Garden District (opened in August 2018), chef-owner Eric Cook serves, in season, a creamy, decadent, Creole-spiced dish of chargrilled crawfish on crispy fried green tomatoes with smoked tomato butter.
Three-Legged Dog, which offers them several nights weekly. Or head to Mid-City Yacht Club on Fridays (no yachts, but plenty of beer and bugs in Mid-City), and definitely check out Carrollton’s Maple Leaf on Sundays. Catered by Seither's Seafood, the Leaf’s boils include ingredients unseen elsewhere (think whole clams, boudin, blackened chicken, quail, rabbit, and alligator). There, you simply pay the cover for the live music show, grab a drink at the bar, belly up to the table for the included-in-the-cover boils, and make new friends while you savor a delicious local tradition.
Bevi Seafood Co., for example, with a new location in Mid-City, is highly respected for its careful sourcing and sorting. Also in Mid-City, family-run Clesi’s offers patio seating and a spot-on spice blend. Cajun Seafood has cheap and flavorful crawfish in four locations around town, and 76-year-old Frankie and Johnnie’s is a solid Uptown institution (but call first to ask if crawfish are available). And ever-popular Deanie’s, with its tasty amuse-bouche of boiled potatoes, recently opened a third restaurant in the Garden District (you’ll also find it in Metairie and the Quarter).
That’s what I do. Six years after trying my first crawfish in that Treme living room, I moved to New Orleans with my husband. And while I still can’t speed-eat like he can, I hold my own at boils. As does our three-year-old son, who devours mudbugs quicker than we can peel them. He has no idea he’s participating in a cherished, time-honored tradition. He just knows they’re delicious.
more from afar