Taking the "West Bank shortcut" to get just a little closer to the source pays big dividends when it's time for a boiled seafood safari.
A crawfish boil should be a memorable event, though one I attended Uptown still stands out many years later for a rather perverse reason. It turned out the host was new to the notion of a boil. He had crawfish, but so very few that he was actually able to prepare the entire haul in a small saucepan on the stovetop. He stirred this boil with a normal dinner spoon and when they were done, we each got to try... one. We should remember that any food is a blessing, but this might have been one of the saddest moments in crawfish history.
After all, when crawfish season is on, the stuff comes pouring into New Orleans. It’s a torrent of fat tails, juicy heads and unabated spice and it turns up everywhere — on restaurant menus, at grocery stores, at seafood markets and corner stores.
But to experience the full bounty of crawfish season, I’m convinced the New Orleanian has to travel a bit. There are two options: one is a trek out to the source, to the parishes of Acadiana and the crawfish farms around the Cajun prairie or to the wild harvest areas of the Atchafalaya Basin. To visit the rustic, sometimes ramshackle crawfish joints around these areas is to feel a pinch of envy. The crawfish are bigger, cheaper and just better than the norm that finds its way to the city.
The second option involves what I call the West Bank shortcut, because around the small, suburban communities over here is a network of seafood restaurants that make you feel like you arrived via Bayou Teche instead of the West Bank Expressway.
One such prodigious source is Salvo's Seafood in Belle Chasse, an easy 15-minute drive from downtown New Orleans. You cross the Mississippi River, then the drawbridge over a shipping canal, and shortly you’re pulling into a parking lot paved with oyster shells and always crowded with trucks. Salvo’s is a combination seafood market and restaurant, with the emphasis on the restaurant. Long, plastic-topped picnic tables are filled with coworkers from the nearby refinery or naval air station or families out for dinner, and the crawfish trays come out lightening fast, as waitresses scoop orders from bins that always seem full. Look for all-you-can-eat boiled seafood deals at dinnertime.
Sal’s Seafood in Marerro is another example. 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.
And then there’s, Perino’s Boiling Pot, hard by the Harvey Canal and attached to a budget motel. Inside, Perino’s is a colorful and bustling place, again arrayed with long tables where no one eats alone and everyone is reaching for the stackable, multi-level trays of crawfish, shrimp and crabs in the center.
There’s such a robust collection of hunting trophies mounted to walls, posts and nooks that the brightly-lit dining room could double as a gallery of taxidermy. The lunging black bear propped over the bar seems to promise that even if you come as hungry as a beast, you’ll leave stuffed.
Perino’s Boiling Pot
3754 West Bank Expwy., Harvey, 504-340-5560
1512 Barataria Blvd., Marrero, 504-341-8112
7742 Hwy. 23, Belle Chasse, 504-393-7303