Crawfish season is still going strong this year, and for Valdrie Collins that’s been a blessing. Bags of hot boiled crawfish usually get first-time customers through the door of his new Hollygrove seafood market, From the Boat to You (3206 S. Carrollton Ave., 504-914-4509), and after that they’re putty in his hands.
Collins runs a one-man shop, a tiny operation that’s as stark as a trawler’s galley where ice chests hold two or three types of whole fish and shrimp by the pound. But, it’s Collins himself who fills the place, not just with his booming voice and street vendor salesmanship, but also with a zealous pride of place.
As a start-up inner city fishmonger focused on the arms-length catch of local lakes and marsh, he’s bringing back a small piece of what was once part of the neighborhood food culture.
“I’m just trying to make something real, something that’s from here,” said Collins. “We sell what a New Orleans guy goes fishing for when he gets a chance to go fishing.”
On a recent day, a woman was looking for croakers. It’s a good frying fish, she explained, and economical, too. Another customer arrived on foot and left carrying a redfish Collins had dressed to order, providing a tutorial in fish butchery as he worked the knife and explained different ways to cook the fillets, the collar, the backbone.
Some of his customers thank him for opening in their neighborhood, and it’s his neighborhood, too. Collins was raised just a few blocks away in Hollygrove.
He spent most of his life working in restaurants, and he ran a few ventures of his own, mostly subleasing barroom kitchens. He later started a barbecue restaurant in Dallas, but a motorcycle crash knocked him down in more ways than one and put him on the path home.
“I was broke, but I knew I could do something,” he said. “You go back to what you know, and I’ve always known about fish.”
He was a roving vendor at first, then added a weekend stand at the nearby Hollygrove Market & Farm before opening his own shop this year. He hopes to expand it, though his focus will remain the same.
“Salmon? You won’t even see a picture of it here,” he said. “It’s good fish, but it’s not our fish, and this is all us here.”
From the Boat to You is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.