I had my whole article planned out – a Father’s Day theme – but a few weeks after flying home from my sister’s wedding in Florida, when the flight attendant urged us to look out the left hand side of the plane to see an oil rig still on fire that killed a dozen people, I found myself unable to focus. I was at La Petite Grocery with my friend, discussing the horrors of the situation. We were sharing a chilled beet salad topped with Louisiana crawfish with an emulsified horseradish sauce, intensified with a hint of tarragon – the perfect salad for a glass of sauvignon blanc and the encroaching hot weather. Though it was the mildest it would be in a while, and perhaps the happiest.
After numerous press releases assuring me that the majority of Louisiana seafood we consume comes from west of the Mississippi and that sea life migrates away from water hazards, the future of our local seafood industry is still questionable. I have been eating my way through oysters, softshell crabs, shrimps and redfish like most people I know. Visions of that interminable veil of sludge being burned off like rum sauce, and photos of local fisherman, heavy eyed and slouching over card tables during their clean-up training, may say more about the future of their livelihood and our ecosystem’s as well. Some of my friends have already made peace with the oyster and blue crab, but I have yet been able to. Instead, here’s a short list of some of my beloved local favorites.
Rocky and Carlo’s in Chalmette. The to-go cups say “ladies invited,” but it’s the softshell crab that has your name written all over it. Deep fried softshell is a ubiquitous staple, but this one has the ability to come with a side of macaroni and cheese – the portion of which is bigger than your head (depending on ego). Elastic waistband recommended.
Patois. The P&J oyster and spinach salad – Meyer lemon buttermilk dressing, Benton bacon and fried oysters? If Faulkner was alive, he would have to drag all of Yoknapatawpha County here to taste what being Southern is really like. Of course, there’s also a little sprinkled Parmigiano-Reggiano, making this a truly classy dish.
Cooter Browns. Yes, it’s a sports bar with really good (if not pricey) beer, and sandwiches that cause heart attacks (alligator philly!) and you almost get run over if you park by the train tracks, but there’s nothing better than sitting with a group of friends, watching sports on one of the hundred big screens and downing five dozen oysters with a cold pint.
Adolfo’s. I am a repeat offender when it comes to their redfish with ocean sauce – a creamy sauce with capers, shrimp, crawfish and butter, lots of butter. Usually, I stop by d.b.a. after to see if it’s possible to stay awake while bloated and watching swing dancing.
Charlie’s Seafood, Harahan. Shrimp calas, the decadent fritters stuffed with tender shrimp and rice – how did they become an overlooked, almost extinct dish in New Orleans? Sometimes, I just sit over them and utter “my precious” again and again.
Cochon. The oven-roasted Gulf fish, served fisherman style. I come from six-generations of Floridians. My family had a stilt-house out in the Gulf Flats, basically a fishing shack a mile out to sea that procured some amazing sunsets, seafood and lightning strikes. Cochon’s beautifully cooked fish, served with pickled onions and lemon, is simple and wonderful, and reminds me of something even my grandfather would’ve enjoyed. And, after being struck by lightning twice in his life, there wasn’t much he liked.
Back at La Petite, after downing the goat cheese mousse, a deliciously fresh and humble dessert served in a mason jar – it’s delicate fluffiness the perfect partner for spring’s succulent berries – I made my way home. I passed the laundromat near my house, with the sign on the door I always laugh at: “You no eat boiled seafoods here.” Except it wasn’t so funny anymore.