A visit to one West Bank seafood specialist can feel like a mini road trip out to crawfish-producing Cajun country.
It’s hard to say just where the West Bank’s suburbs end and the Louisiana countryside begins, but I think a fair case can be made for the gravel parking lot leading to Sal’s Seafood, at least during crawfish season.
Sal’s is a small, old-fashioned seafood restaurant in the middle of Marerro, just across a deep moat of a drainage ditch from Barataria Boulevard. It keeps company with the usual, low-rise suburban development, but walk inside and Sal’s seems like the kind of place you might expect to find closer to Bayou Teche than the West Bank Expressway.
In a small, paneled room lit by overhead fluorescent tubes, in a setting that’s about as romantic as a Dollar General store, everyone from nuns to the guys who parked those Harleys out front get their elbows on their tables to dispatch enormous amounts of boiled seafood. During a recent Friday lunch, the people at one table were stacking their discarded shells with the precision of masons. Clearly these were people who know their way around a good boil.
The abundance, the quality and the single-minded focus behind the boiling operation here -- and the abandon with which customers greet it – are all hallmarks Sal’s shares with the so-called “boiling point” eateries out in crawfish-producing Cajun country. To me, this makes the short journey over the Harvey Canal to visit Sal’s feel like a satisfying mini road trip.
Sal’s traces its roots to a bar run by owner and namesake Sal Penino in the 1970s. He would put out boiled seafood for his neighborhood regulars and this proved such a hit that by 1979 he opened Sal’s Seafood. Today the seafood handling operation here stretches on and on, with an industrial-sized apparatus of conveyor belts and purging tanks that looks ready to handle a truckload of crawfish at once.
The boil is not so spicy but the crawfish size is consistently impressive and baskets of them seem perpetually hot and ready for your order. There’s no waiting around for the next boil batch or settling for cold crawfish here.
Penino once worked in the meat business too, which might explain why this seafood restaurant makes its own hot sausage patties and turns out such a good roast beef po-boy. A deli case by the entrance is filled with good things to bring home or to order for your table – from palm-sized crawfish pies to stuffed artichokes.
Still, the way to put Sal’s through its paces is to surround a table with friends and then fill it with crawfish. At this time of year, make sure to get a few rounds of the plump, salty raw oysters too. Beer comes in ice-cold cans, wine comes from boxes of Franzia.
Before your seafood comes out, you cover your table with old newspapers, reams and reams of which are stacked in the corner. A page of obituaries always seems to end up as part of my place setting, but maybe looking down at those portraits of the recently deceased is a healthy reminder to enjoy what we have while we have it. After all, it’s hard to sit before a feast of crawfish, oysters and cheap beer at Sal’s without thinking that you’re really living.
1512 Barataria Blvd., Marrero — (504) 341-8112