- PHOTO BY DAN HARDESTY
- BIBBED FOR HER PLEASURE: Even a restaurant critic wears a lobster bib when tackling the seafood boil and the Cajun mixed seafood and chips. It's a delicious mess of spicy seafood.
Join me on a culinary journey, if you’re adventuresome, to discover the spicy-hot, intriguing cuisine of New Orleans. I encourage you to wear something that’s comfortable enough to allow you to roll back your sleeves and tie on a lobster bib. That’s because we’re going to get down and dirty after cracking through several pounds of crustaceans bathing in a hot, spice-laced-broth. Not to mention fried fish and french fries that will make you say, “What diet?” Fortunately, we don’t have to pack bags and fly to Louisiana with the excellent Crawdaddy’s in SLO.
If you want some real fun, order the seafood boil that allows you to choose your choice of shellfish. I kept it simple by ordering the shrimp heads-on; they charge for it by the pound at fair market price. I chose the kitchen sink seasoning. It’s a combination of four housemade sauces: garlic lemon butter, garlic butter, wet Cajun style, and Cajun style, which is a dry spice rub. They also add Andouille sausage, whole red potatoes, and corn on the cob. Once cooked it’s poured into a steam bag (clear plastic so you see the treasures within) and delivered to you on a stainless steel platter with lemon and lime wedges. You can pour your seafood into the platter or do as the chef recommends and eat it right out of the bag so it stays hot. It’s a good thing they provide the plastic bibs and gloves, since it’s downright messy.
Owner/chef Jon Kim, a good-natured man, told me about one diner’s reaction when he served her the seafood boil. “Why did you put my food in a garbage bag?” He chuckled and explained, “That’s a steam bag made for holding hot food, not a garbage bag.” The shellfish choices include lobster, King crab legs, Dungeness crab, snow crab, blue crab, and crawdads. Since they’re all seasonal the entire list isn’t always available. The head-on shrimp, clams, and mussels are available year round. It’s fun to mix up your favorites. There is one caveat—nothing is pre-cracked, not even the whole Dungeness crab. I advise you to wear something that’s washable.
“We want diners to get the full Cajun experience,” Kim noted. “We’re getting more and more orders for the seafood boil. Everybody digs in and eats with their hands, and it gets pretty messy but people love it.” I rarely choose fried food but occasionally enjoy fish and chips, so I tried theirs. Kim’s recipe for the batter includes Cajun spices and cornmeal which makes it really crunchy, perfect for my taste. The crisp and spicy Cajun seafood combo with fish, calamari, shrimp, scallops, and chips (french fries) was excellent, the chips somewhere between skinny and fat, $16.99. You can upgrade to garlic or sweet potato fries, only $1 or $2 more respectively.
- PHOTO BY DAN HARDESTY
We loved the excellent tacos listed among the appetizers, which can be ordered grilled or fried. We tried one of each, Cajun fish, $2.50, Cajun shrimp, and Cajun crawdad, the latter two at $3.50 each. Topped with the freshest mixed cabbage slaw and avocado, they are healthy and irresistible.
Here’s more good news to chew on. Kim offers happy hour daily from 4 to 6 p.m. when the Cajun fish tacos are $1.50 each, and brews and wines are discounted. They feature 12 draft taps, four of which are seasonal brews, and Castoro or Dusi white and red wines.
After visiting New Orleans three times with my husband, Dan Hardesty, we claim to know a thing or two about that mighty fine cuisine. That’s why I’m so excited about Crawdaddy’s. It’s totally casual and provides an array of good foods at good value prices. The only tablecloths, should you need one, are made of white butcher paper which makes it all the more convenient to roll up the mess you can’t help but leave behind. Too bad they didn’t open near me in Pismo Beach (then again, maybe that’s a good thing or I’d dine there too often).
Crawdaddy’s is located near Highway 101 in SLO, on Monterey Street near Grand Avenue. They only offer lunch on Saturday and Sunday starting at noon, on weekdays it’s open from 4 to 9:30 p.m. The exterior of the old building, it’s fair to say, is downright nondescript. It has been home to a number of other businesses I never visited. But after hearing good reports about this Cajun themed seafood house, I was motivated to check it out. I opened the door cautiously as if I was going to run off if it was scary inside. The ambiance is a very different world than its lackluster exterior portrays.
The nautical theme is bright and colorful, and each side of the dining room is lined with brand new, comfortable booths. Wooden picnic tables down the center can easily be turned to accommodate large parties. Best of all, the place has always been spotlessly clean. From the tables to the ordering counter and the floors, everything is neat, and there are no untended messy areas. I give kudos to the conscientious staff. I asked Kim why he didn’t spruce up the storefront with a Cajun mural.
“That’s exactly what I wanted to do, but the city turned it down,” he said.
There’s a good reason this is a great choice for pristine seafood: Kim is a professionally trained sushi chef who worked in the business 20-plus years. Kim spent most of his life in greater Los Angeles where he attended the California Sushi Academy in Venice. After coming here to work eight years ago, he decided to move his family here.
“Creole and Cajun seafood is very popular in L.A. and San Francisco. There was nothing like this in this county,” Kim recalled. “I wanted to eat food like this and bring something new to SLO County.” And it turned out to be a great gift for local foodies.
Contact Cuisine columnist Kathy Marcks Hardesty at firstname.lastname@example.org.