A good boil makes the humble crawfish an emblem of the season. It can make any old backyard get-together a feast for the ages. And these days, it turns a stretch of Mid-City sidewalk near the dead end of Banks Street into the sort of seafood patio you might expect to find out in the countryside near the crawfish ponds and rice fields.
This is Clesi’s (4413 Banks St., 504-909-0108), a mobile operation for seafood boils that has lately put down some roots.
James Clesi caters events and serves a circuit of bars in Mid-City and Uptown that outsource their weekly crawfish boils to his outfit. This season, he decided he needed a home base and found one in the small ramshackle restaurant space attached to the Banks Street Bar.
From his kitchen, one service counter faces the bar crowd and another faces his own dining room, but the action is really oustide. Clesi boils on a trailer set up near a short run of picnic tables, which makes a conducive setting for a laidback crawfish outing, splitting the difference between seafood market and seafood restaurant. People bring go-cups from the adjacent bar or roll in with ice chests for BYOB.
Raised in Metairie, Clesi got the bug for boiling during his college years in the 1990s down in Thibodaux. There’s nothing exotic to his recipe. Drink a beer outside by his trailer as he works up another boil and you can see all the ingredients go in with no surprises. But timing is the key, he said, and his technique certainly comes through with good texture, easy peeling and a lemony flavor laced with red pepper spice.
From the kitchen, Clesi’s serves a short menu that could be described as “Louisiana tailgate traditional,” with fried catfish, boudin balls, meat pies and “jambalaya cheese fries,” a mix of crisp fries, meaty rice and a cap of cheese which is just as much fun as it sounds.
Crawfish are in their prime right now. When the season tails off, Clesi plans to switch to shrimp and crabs in their turn.
Clesi’s is open for lunch through late-night every day except Monday. The crawfish boil drops at 5 p.m. and is served until the batch runs out.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.