A Softshell Odyssey

Written by Mary Ann Fitzmorris March 01, 2024 22:47 in Dining Diary

With such a bounty of sublime seafood choices, it is hard to pick a favorite. But softshell crabs are such a special delicacy available only a portion of the time, I make a point to have as many as I encounter. And for some reason, it is a banner year for them.

Though we are certainly not finished enjoying them around town, here are a few of note, in no particular order. It is hard to pick a favorite because they are all so exceptional in their own way, and I will seek them out again.

The first one of the season we had at Antoine’s, as part of their spring menu. This might have been the best softshell crab I have ever had. The batter was light and airy, crispy, greaseless, and golden brown all at the same time. It was not especially large, but they don’t have to be. It was perfect on all counts. A brown butter sauce and almonds completed this classic New Orleans seasonal treat.

The next one I am still thinking about and will definitely return to experience again is the softshell crab with Asian crawfish sauce at Trey Yuen. Two come on a plate quartered. They are heavily battered making them extra crispy. And they are large and meaty. All the desirable attributes are here: hot, greaseless, golden brown, and crispy. This is usually served Tong Cho style, but the large bowl of crawfish sauce that comes with it makes it a two-fer with the crawfish in season as well. A special dish.

The Anchor in Madisonville is serving a softshell crab BLT. Stacked high on a brioche bun with slices of thick smoky bacon, this is a wonderful sandwich. The crab is fat and you hear the crunch biting into it. I love this sandwich.

Mandeville Seafood has its own version of the softshell crab BLT. Not as glamorous as the one at Anchor but every bit as tasty, this one is not on the menu but runs as a special. I was first tipped off to the Mandeville seafood version of softshells by Briana from Pardo's whose enthusiasm got me so excited I called the next day to see if they had it. The bun is basic and it is stuffed with fresh dressings, and bacon and held together with mayo. The crab is fried golden brown in a tasty batter that has a nice crunch to it.

And speaking of Pardo’s, I had two terrific softshell crab dishes there. The first was a tempura-battered softshell with an Asian slaw. The crab was enormous in size and meaty in girth. Even though I am not a tempura fan, this was a spectacular plate of food. The combination of crab and the Asian slaw exploded in the mouth, and the whole thing was just a beauty. 

On another visit for lunch shortly after, a sandwich was a special that day. It was not tempura-battered this time, and served on a bun blanketed in sesame seeds. I love this bun! Inside was a crab with a great coating and more of that delectable Asian slaw. The presentation popped with a tiny stack of cornichons collected by a toothpick spear on top. This was served with a terrific salad of nice greens with a light vinaigrette.

Fausto’s had a fabulous special of softshell crab over linguine with a creamy crawfish sauce. The crab was sort of crumpled on top in a presentation that looks like a flower. It was perfectly fried greaseless and golden brown, but the pasta underneath might have stolen the show. The cream sauce with crawfish had an intense and sublime flavor.

Cafe Lynn in Mandeville sometimes serves a gigantic softshell fried to perfection and also served over pasta. Usually, this pasta is linguine in cream sauce with capers. This is a terrific dish and I get it whenever I see it there.

It’s hard to beat the softshell crabs at any of the restaurants run by the Impastato’s. The plate has two enormous specimens that are pan-sauteed and served with a butter and lemon cream sauce with capers, or a different version of cream sauce with crabmeat and mushrooms. 

I often say that most of the food I eat I never think about again. Any of these softshell dishes on this list are exceptions to that. I loved them, I still think of them, and I will definitely have them again before this season of deliciousness ends.