On the Food Show (airs 2-4pm weekdays 990AM) we talk about absolutely anything having to do with food, any place, any way. These conversations set about an exploration for a lot of listeners, and also for me. The very mention by a caller recently that referenced Spahr’s Seafood down in Houma made me want to go there. The conversation took place on a Friday, and we were on the road the very next day. I like to take these little adventurous drives that are not too far but are still different.
I remember Spahr’s from downtown Houma, when we went there many years ago for an Eat Club at The John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University. Marcelle Bienvenue was there, and so were a lot of listeners. It was a great time, but I also remember cruising around downtown Houma before the dinner. It was there that I first noticed Spahr’s. I assumed incorrectly that this Houma location of the seafood house was the original. The caller to the show mentioned a former gas station on Highway 90 that is the real first Spahr’s. It is this one that we visited that beautiful Saturday.
One of the features of the menu is wild Louisiana Des Allemandes catfish, an almost mythical food product gaining some popularity in New Orleans restaurants. Spahr’s is located, literally, on Des Allemandes, so why wouldn’t the fish served be wild? I was excited to eat something so fresh. Wild catfish has either a delightful delicate flavor or almost a gamey, dirty taste. I hoped for the former.
We arrived to a full parking lot and a restaurant with every table occupied. These tables were taken by locals who all know each other and the servers, and no one was in any hurry to vacate any table. I went outside to assess the possibility of eating on the back patio, which was more like a carport. The sign at water’s edge said “Snakes and alligators are likely to be seen in or near the water.” I was already mildly intimidated by the wildness of this scene, and decided not to set up at a table outside when a little gator glided by. We would wait.
Two old guys who had been chatting a while finally decided to exit, and we got a table by the window as I had hoped we could. (The restaurant inside tended to be a little dark, as was the custom for restaurant interiors when this place was birthed.) Our young server was very friendly and helped us navigate the menu. Sort of.
We started with a pile of fried shrimp over coleslaw. These seemed oddly small to be a featured item in a dish, and the batter was also a little odd. They weren’t bad, (they were shrimp after all), but the coleslaw underneath made the dish. It was a chopped but chunkier version of your high school cafeteria-style, with a really spicy dressing. This was a good coleslaw, and its presence rescued this dish.
The next thing that arrived on the table was the sampler appetizer platter, which consisted of crawfish bread, mini crabcakes, and onion sticks, which came with a housemade onion dip. Our waitress asked if I wanted some crawfish sauce for the mini crabcakes. I assumed this was a similar thing to the onion dip, so I said yes.
This platter was a huge disappointment. The crawfish bread was soggy with an unremarkable crawfish sauce, the fried onions were neither rings nor strings, just a peculiar pile of irregular pieces of onion not redeemed by the onion dip. And the mini crabcakes were the size of a quarter with a dark shell that screamed, “Just one last drop in this overused oil.” None of this was worth eating, including the extra crawfish sauce that the waitress failed to mention was an extra $6.
My expectations of the famed Des Allemands wild catfish were greatly reduced by this sampler platter. It was a normal -sized plate piled with irregular strips of catfish fried in a cornmeal/breadcrumb batter that I found distracting. It seemed to deflect interest from the delicate flavor and texture of this prized fish. The fries were an ordinary frozen french fry.
It got better after eating a few pieces of the fish, and overall the platter was fine. I think I just expect magic from wild catfish, and I am usually disappointed. Fortunately, the fish itself was delicate and wonderful.
All of what I just said would leave one with the impression that I didn’t care for any of this. Let me explain. Spahr’s Seafood is a fun place to go for a little drive on a weekend. The food is not special enough to make it a restaurant to patronize unless you are in the neighborhood. But going to the neighborhood makes for a fun adventure, and the food is just fine for that. The little place is interesting, and Wild Louisiana out the back door is fascinating. It is, in fact, definitely worth an hour’s investment of time. And next time I will get something different, with probably better luck.