Crawfish cravings know no boundaries. But they can run up against time limits.
Of the countless places to find boiled crawfish around New Orleans, very few cater specifically to a late night crowd. In fact, getting great crawfish often means beating the clock.
That’s true at the family-friendly restaurants that serve boiled seafood, which tend to keep conventional dinner hours anyway. And it’s true at most of the bars that host seasonal boils, which tend to start in the late afternoon and have only so many sacks on hand.
But some spots are building their own niches with the after-hours crawfish eater, as we’ll see below.
Of course, crawfish always come with a caveat, and these places are no different. It’s a fickle product, and schedules change. So always check availability to avoid disappointment.
Boiling on Banks at Clesi’s
Starting with a boiling trailer and an excellent hand over the pot, James Clesi has turned 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 crawfish country.
Clesi’s began as a mobile crawfish operation, catering the boiled seafood happy hours at other bars.
Last season, Clesi set down some roots, taking over the small, ramshackle restaurant space attached to the Banks Street Bar. His kitchen inside serves fried fish, jambalaya, meat pies and such to customers in his own dining room and to bar patrons next door.
Outside, Clesi boils by a clutch of umbrella-topped picnic tables under strings of lights. The crawfish keeps coming until midnight, and lately so have the customers.
“Having the bar right there made it a natural,” Clesi said. “We have people coming over from shows, we have people from out of town and want to try crawfish, we just keep it rolling.”
What they’re getting isn’t just late-night crawfish, but some of the best crawfish in town at any hour.
Clesi’s crawfish gives distinct flavors of citrus, pepper and clove and, most of all, keep a consistently firm, full texture.
The sidewalk setting is conducive for a laidback crawfish outing, splitting the difference between seafood market and seafood restaurant. And so is the drinks policy here. People bring co-cups over from Banks Street Bar or haul in their own six packs and ice chests for BYOB action.
4413 Banks St., 504-909-0108
Tue.-Fri., 5 p.m.-midnight, Sat. and Sun., noon-midnight
Cleaning Up with Crawfish at Melba’s
Cruise by fast and Melba’s can look like any other busy urban strip mall, jammed with cars and festooned with signs and banners.
In fact, it’s the next chapter for the family behind the old Wagner’s Meat grocery chain and Chicken Box brands, both of pre-Katrina vintage. It’s a 24-hour operation melding a washateria with a Creole deli for gumbo, daiquiris, fried chicken and po-boys. Lately, it’s also been witnessing a huge seasonal surge for crawfish.
Melba’s serves a fairly spicy crawfish, and it keeps the boil batches going until about 11 p.m. most nights. The supply usually lasts well past midnight, reports owner Scott Wolfe.
Melba’s is counter service, but with a bar and a dining room it’s a surprisingly accommodating place to sit down for a quick meal with local flavor and New Orleans character, at any hour.
1525 Elysian Fields Ave., 504-267-7765
Crazy Crawfish Nights at the Maple Leaf
The Maple Leaf has seen some far out acts cross its stage over the years. But even with that precedent, the Sunday night crawfish boils the legendary Oak Street music hall now hosts can be eye popping.
“It’s wild, it’s like it’s not even a boil anymore,” said Jason Seither, chef/owner of Seither’s Seafood in Harahan, who prepares the feast each week. “I feel it’s like some witch’s brew I’m cooking in back.”
That’s because each week Maple Leaf proprietor Hank Staples provides an ever-changing hamper of highly unconventional boil extras for Seither to cook up with the crawfish. Pork chops, boudin and andouille is just the start of a list that has seen quail, frog legs, whole chickens, beef liver and pork liver and some unidentified exotic vegetables. It’s whatever Staples turns up on foraging runs to Hong Kong Market, the Asian grocery in Terrytown, though sometimes it even goes beyond that. Raccoon has been involved in the past. Sometimes Seither cooks up a whole pig leg to be an edible centerpiece for the boil, which is poured out on folding tables lined straight across the dance floor.
Held on Sunday nights during crawfish season, the boil is usually ready around 10 p.m., before the Joe Krown Trio takes the stage for their regular gig. The cost of the boil is included in the regular $10 cover.
Crawfish Street Party
The Sunday format will get a major change-up on Feb. 28, however, for a special benefit boil, concert and block party.
Dubbed “Jamie’s Big Ass Crawfish Party,” it brings the crawfish tables outside to Oak Street, with some 2,000 pounds of crawfish in the works.
Proceeds from this party benefit the nonprofit New Orleans Musicians Clinic, and the event is a tribute to the life of Jamie Galloway, a local musician and chef who died in 2013.
The Maple Leaf’s music lineup for the day includes George Porter Jr. and Friends, Brint Anderson, Papa Mali, the New Orleans Suspects, Johnny Sketch & the Dirty Notes, Dave Jordan & the NIA and Aron’s Treme 2nd Line Brass Band
The party is from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m., and tickets are $25, or $100 for the VIP area. Get them in advance here.
Maple Leaf Bar
8316 Oak St., 504-866-9359
Regular Sunday boils begin at 10 p.m.
Feb. 28 benefit boil is 3-10 p.m.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.