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Crawfish Season Is Off to a Slow Start

But here's where to get your mudbugs.

Season's Eating

Wild Cajun will have your taste buds tingling from all the spice.

"The only thing better than a crawfish dinner is five crawfish dinners."

Coach Red Beaulieu, The Waterboy

Ain't that the truth? It's time to eat up, because crawfish season is upon us once again...well, sort of.

Gulf Coast crawfish season typically begins in early to mid-March, but this year has seen a small crawfish harvest due to an unseasonably cold winter and icy snaps that hit the gulf unusually late in the year.

"The one thing you should know about crawfish is they're very temperature-sensitive," says Stephen Minvielle, director of the Louisiana Crawfish Promotion and Research Board. "We don't have a lot of history on ice storms like we've had this year to compare it to. Was it a permanent negative effect? Probably not. But it's unknown."

Minvielle says that by this time of year, he's used to hauling in anywhere from 12 (on a poor day) to 22 sacks of crawfish from his operation, but his best haul so far has been 11 sacks of mudbugs.

"Fifty-eight to 65 degrees is the most wonderful temperature for crawfish," Minvielle says. "Since we had a long winter, that growth period that we usually have wasn't there. We're about 30 to 40 days behind."

Still, many restaurants here in Houston are receiving live crawfish from Louisiana and nearby farms, and while prices are high now, many spots expect the cost per pound to keep decreasing into April. You probably won't see the best crawfish of your life this year, but you can still get some good mudbugs at these places.

And remember: "When the hurricane season starts, crawfish season ends," says Minvielle, referencing the official June 1 start date of hurricane season, when warm currents begin to invade the gulf. Get 'em soon!

10. Blue Water Seafood(tied with LA Crawfish)

Both of these spots make a mean crawfish boil, but they're tied for tenth place because neither has gotten in live crawfish yet. For now, Blue Water Seafood is selling pre-boiled crawfish from Louisiana for $7.99 a pound, and the restaurant expects to be getting in live crawfish next week. If you order a crawfish boil, you get two pounds of crawfish, ten boiled shrimp, andouille sausage, corn and potatoes for $25.99. Both LA Crawfish locations are currently selling crawfish in a garlic butter sauce, chile lime sauce or Cajun style for $6.99 a pound. A person I spoke to there said he expects to get the fresh, live mudbugs in later this month.

9. Bayou City Seafood & Pasta

The crawfish at Bayou City are super-fresh, and though the boil offered is a basic spicy Cajun, it's of high quality and comes with potatoes and corn. You won't ever find mushy mudbugs here, because if they aren't fresh, Bayou City won't serve them. The crawfish is currently a bit on the pricey side for the restaurant — $7.99 per pound — but if you go on Tuesday, there's a deal where you buy four pounds of fresh boiled crawfish and get one pound for free. The restaurant assures me that prices will go down as more crawfish become available.

8. The Cajun Stop

At The Cajun Stop, the crawfish are huge, because owner Lisa Carnley orders nothing but the jumbo ones for her customers. The tail meat abounds, and the spicy boil will leave your lips and tongue tingling. I recently ate some delish crawfish there, but I wanted to make sure the Cajun restaurant is getting in live ones, so I called. The person on the other end of the phone laughed at the question. "Of course they're live!" That's what I like to hear. Get 'em now for $8.25 a pound.

7. Woodrow's Heights

The former Mardi Gras Grill transformed into Woodrow's Heights during last year's crawfish season, but the name change hasn't changed the excitement surrounding crawfish festivities at all. During the season, this particular Woodrow's on Durham hosts crawfish-eating competitions and regular boils featuring very few accoutrements (potatoes, corn, etc.) other than a lot of spice. Right now, crawfish are $7.75 a pound, but during peak season, the price should go down to the regular $5.99 per pound.

6. Crawfish Shack

At the Crawfish Shack, the critters come one of four ways: mild, medium, spicy or meaux spicy. For those of you who don't speak Louisiana, that's real damn hot. Diners also have the option of adding potatoes, corn, mushrooms or sausage for a set price per pound, making this the most customizable boil in town. If you feel like doing your own boil, the Crawfish Shack also sells live crawfish by the sack. The restaurant is out in Crosby, so it's a bit of a haul, but well worth the trip. But take note: The wait for $7.95-per-pound crawfish can be long. Doors open at 4 p.m., so get there early.

5. Ragin Cajun

The original Ragin Cajun on Richmond is a Houston institution, and with four other locations in town, there's no excuse not to get to the nearest one immediately. Part of what makes the first location so grand is the wild New Orleans-style decor and the fact that the restaurant doesn't charge extra for corn or potatoes. The food is also served on newsprint, which makes neighborhood crawfish-boil fiends like me feel right at home. Ragin Cajun doesn't usually sell by the pound, but right now you can get two pounds for $13.99. Long lines full of fun, rowdy, mudbug-hungry folks included.

4. BB's Cafe

Like Ragin Cajun, BB's Cafe has become something of a local institution for Cajun food, and the crawfish are no exception. The bugs are a good size, and the seasoning, as one Facebook fan said, "will have you willing to sell your soul to the devil to get more." I'm not sure I'd go quite that far, but it is super-spicy and super-addictive. BB's is also great about using social media to let customers know how long the waits are and if (God forbid) it's sold out. One pound of crawfish with corn and potatoes is currently priced at $7.95, but the owners are assuring customers on social media that as soon as they're able to sell the critters for less, they will.

3. Wild Cajun

This Viet-Cajun hybrid restaurant will have your taste buds tingling from all the spice in the signature Wild Cajun boil. There's also a garlic butter boil, which is more like what one might expect to find on lobster — slightly garlicky and very rich. Wild Cajun gets in lots of live crawfish, but the small space does tend to run out, so call ahead to make sure you'll get your bugs before you go. If you are able to get in, it's totally worth the $7.99 per pound for fresh crawfish that are some of the spiciest around.

2. Daily Seafood

Like the Crawfish Shack, Daily Seafood will sell you live crawfish to go to take home for your own boil. At $4.39 a pound for the raw, live mudbugs, the price can't be beat. Should you want to let Daily Seafood do the work for you, the current price is $6.99 a pound. The boil is essentially just garlic and spices. Like, a lot of garlic. A few years ago, Katharine Shilcutt wrote of the boil, "The spicy heat on your lips isn't from cayenne or any other kind of pepper: It's just from the lobes of garlic that infuse every nook and cranny of the bugs." As of now, this is the cheapest pound of crawfish we can find in the city!

1. Crawfish & Noodles

There's perhaps nothing that says Houston more than a Vietnamese crawfish restaurant. And while there are plenty of places that serve them, Crawfish & Noodles's Cajun-spiced, garlic-­butter-soaked critters take the cake. The mudbugs don't soak in their own juices for too long, allowing you to experience the true crawfish flavor of the fresh, tender meat inside the spice-dusted shells. We're not kidding when we say the giant roll of paper towels on each table will come in handy. Oh, and you'll want to suck those mudbug heads. Trust us. Right now, these glorious bugs are $8.99 per pound.
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Season's Eating

7 Awesome Seafood Sandwiches
To help you survive Lent.

Brooke Viggiano

Two Fridays down, six more to go. Two weeks ago, the 40 days of Lent began. For many, it's a time of prayer, atonement and — most important for the purposes of this article — meat-free Fridays. This can be quite difficult in a city where fantastic burgers, juicy fried chicken and pork-stuffed everything are tempting you at every turn.

But have no fear, Houston! These seven drool-worthy seafood sandwiches will have even the most meat-centric of us forgetting that this is a time of sacrifice.

1. Lobster Roll

Where to get it: Maine-ly Sandwiches

Maine-ly Sandwiches's owner, Buddy Charity, hails from Biddleford, Maine, so right off the bat, you know the shop's lobster rolls are legit. Another reason? Charity has the fresh lobster shipped in straight from Maine every week. Stop by one of two locations for a taste of the buttery-crisp, griddled buns filled with hunks of plump, tender lobster ($9.50 for a big-enough half-sandwich). The lobster is dressed simply in lemon mayo and salt and pepper, allowing the fresh-out-of-the-sea flavor of the meat to shine.

2. Fried Fish Sandwich

Where to get it: Fountain View Fish Market

For a classic fried-fish sandwich that will kick any fast-food version's sorry behind, look no further than Fountain View Fish Market. Choose from hot and crisp shrimp, oyster, cod or catfish served simply on an old-fashioned hamburger bun with bright tartar sauce, lettuce and onion. The meal is just $4.99 with a choice of side (onion rings, coleslaw or french fries) and a drink.

3. Po-Boy Combo

Where to get it: Goode Co. Seafood

Goode Co. Seafood's mesquite-grilled shrimp po-boys trump nearly every other version in town, but that's not to say the crunchy version isn't just as awesome. Adding catfish and oysters to the sandwich only makes things that much better. Stuff your po-boy with two of the three and choose either fried or grilled for $11.95 and $12.95, respectively. Or head to the seafood joint during lunch hours for a half-po-boy and shrimp, crab or seafood gumbo combo that can't be beat ($12.95).

4. Bagel w/ Lox

Where to get it: New York Bagel & Coffee Shop

Ask any bagel aficionado where to find the best bagel in Houston, and he or she will send you straight to Meyerland's New York Bagel Shop (with River Oaks's Hot Bagel Shop a close second). The authentic East Coast-style joint pumps out all the lox, bagels and cream cheese you can dream of...and like any good bagel shop, does it on the cheap. Get a bagel with lox spread for around $2, or add a full slice of the smoked salmon for another $2.85. If you want the "works," go for the Lox or Nova Fish Box. It'll run you around $10, but it comes packed with thick, meaty slices of lox; lettuce; tomatoes; red onions; olives; cucumbers; and a heap of cream cheese.

5. Tuna Melt

Where to get it: Lankford Grocery & Market

Sometimes you just want a good old-fashioned tuna melt. Mom-and-pop shop Lankford Grocery & Market has been serving up down-home comfort food since it opened as a grocery in 1939. At $6.75, the mega-stuffed, buttery and crisp tuna melt fresh off the famous griddle is one of the best in town.

6. Salmon Burger

Where to get it: Conscious Cafe

Third Ward hangout Conscious Cafe's gourmet salmon burger is one of the place's most popular dishes...and we can understand why. The wild-caught Alaskan salmon is thick and just as fresh as the house-made bread it's served on. Piles of ripe tomatoes, crisp lettuce, safflower mayo and the ­cafe's signature sweet onion sauce help the flaky salmon sandwich shine.

7. Crab Daddy Bao

Where to get it: Fat Bao

Fat Bao's soft-shell-crab-stuffed bao is one of our favorite versions in Houston of the puffy steamed buns. It's even on our Kaitlin Steinberg's list of 100 Favorite Dishes. She probably says it best: "It's a small, fried soft-shell crab nestled in a bed of Asian-inspired slaw and topped with spicy mayo. The crunchy crab is warm and textural against the puffy, yeasty bao, which also serves to temper the hint of heat in the slaw and mayo."

Get one for $5 and add on either the tempura-fried fish bao ($3.50) or the salmon-stuffed New Yorker bao ($4) to round out the meal.
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Top Five

Top 5 Cheese Plates in Houston
Fromage lovers, you're welcome.

Molly Dunn

When a menu offers a cheese plate, there's a 99 percent chance I am going to order it. Especially if it comes with a variety of breads, crackers, fruits, meats, and preserves or jams. Each of these enhances the cheese — and you can make a meal out of an appetizer.

Whether you want to munch on cheese and crackers at the bar or start — or end — your meal with a glass of wine and a sampling of artisan cheeses and meats, there are several restaurants in our great city to satisfy this craving. Here are five of the best cheese plates in Houston.

5.Kirbside Bar

The bar inside the Whole Foods on Kirby serves a variety of cheese plates for you to munch on while sipping a glass of beer or wine. If you're a cheese connoisseur, order either The Kirbside Classic with smoked mozzarella wrapped with prosciutto, Goat Brie, a fig spread, Gruyère Reserve New Zealand Cheddar, gherkins and a Spanish cocktail mix, or choose the more expensive "The Localtier," complete with local cheeses: Lonestar goat cheese, aged Brazos Valley Clothbound Cheddar, raw-milk Brazos Valley Brie, Stroope's local honey and Zilk's basil pesto. But one of the best options, for $10, is The Mixed Milk cheese plate, complete with soft, creamy Lonestar goat cheese; nutty three-month Manchego; cubed smoked seaside Cheddar; and fig preserves. The plates are served with crispy crackers. You can't go wrong with a plate of cheese and a beer.

4.Zelko Bistro

The cheese plate at Zelko Bistro is everything you want in such a plate. The selections of cheeses from the Brazos Valley vary, but you'll always have a variety of hard cheese like Parmesan or Gouda and soft, creamy cheese like Brie or crumbled blue. But the plate is not complete without its accompaniments. Chef Jamie Zelko adds a variety of grapes and strawberries and a stick of honeycomb. Pair all these sweet treats with savory bread, heavily coated in garlic, olive oil and herbs. A little bit of cheese with some bread and honey is the ultimate bite. And if you can eat outside while enjoying this platter, you'll feel as if you've died and gone to heaven.

3.Mockingbird Bistro Wine Bar

Chef John Sheely has received much praise for his wonderful cheese selections at Mockingbird Bistro Wine Bar. Head to the bar during happy hour, order a glass of wine, and choose three or five cheeses from the fromage menu. The cheeses available vary on occasion, but you always have incredible choices. Current offerings include Challerhocker, a semi-firm pasteurized cow's milk cheese from Switzerland; Smoke Blue, a raw cow's milk blue cheese smoked over Oregon hazelnut shells; and, of course, Veldhuizen Redneck Cheddar infused with Shiner Black beer from Texas. Each plate comes with a sweet and sticky fig jam, local honey and candied pecans — you can't go wrong pairing cheese with something sweet. Throw in some charcuterie such as house-made pâté, smoked duck breast or serrano ham as well.

2.Adair Kitchen

The Kitchen Cheese Plate at Adair Kitchen constantly changes, and that's not a bad thing. The daily cheese selections are paired with thin slices of delicate prosciutto, sweet grapes (and sometimes other slices of fruit), seasonal preserves and honey. Sometimes you'll be served crumbly blue cheese with hard Cheddar, or soft goat cheese with creamy Brie. Spread honey or preserves on the thin, crispy cracker bread, then top with a slice of cheese (any selection works) and a thin slice of prosciutto for the perfect bite. No matter which cheese is offered, everything on the platter pairs excellently. Order the half-platter if you're splitting with another person, or opt for the full platter if you have a bunch of hungry diners in your party.

1.The Grove

The Grove is always packed during the evenings, especially on weekends. But if you don't have a reservation, don't sweat it. Grab a seat at the bar, order something to drink and share a cheese plate with your friends. Each selection of local cheeses costs $5, but the amount is perfect for two. Choose from pasteurized Deep Ellum Blue cheese from Dallas; soft, pasteurized Pure Luck Goat Cheese from Dripping Springs; Birdville Reserve from Granbury; and three types of cheddar: raw Brazos Valley; raw Horseradish Pecan White; and semi-firm, raw Veldhuizen Texas Gold from Dublin, Texas. For a filling plate, choose three cheeses, such as the blue, goat and Brazos Valley Cheddar. The pieces of toast are brushed with olive oil; create a salty-sweet-savory bite by spreading the pear mostarda or honey on the toast, followed by a slice of creamy goat or zippy Cheddar. Ask for more bread to make a meal out of the cheese plate.
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Restaurant News

Openings & Closings
Bradley's Fine Diner is on hold; Michael's Cookie Jar opens downtown.

Molly Dunn

Even though The Fresh Market expanded rapidly throughout Houston last year, one of the locations has already closed, and it's the one across the street from the Central Market at Westheimer and Weslayan — a likely reason for the market's closure. CultureMap reports that this is the only Fresh Market location to close in the Houston area; the other three will remain open.

The sign is up outside the soon-to-open Bradley's Fine Diner on Heights Boulevard, but the restaurant didn't open on March 15 as the owners had originally planned. Eater explains that a damaged water line has forced a postponement. As executive chef Bradley Ogden said in a statement to Eater, you can't cook without water.

Craving Chicago-style food? Then look no further than the newest Chicago food eaterie, Maxwell Street Grill, which opened at 4902 Almeda on March 1. But don't expect to sit down inside because, well, there's no dining room. Drive up to this walk-up-and-order grill and nosh on hot dogs, hamburgers and what Eater describes as the star item on the menu, the Maxwell Street Polish; it's a J.J. Sausage kielbasa with all the fixings (grilled onions, mustard and peppers). Maxwell Street Grill is also open quite late throughout the week — till 3 a.m. Thursday through Sunday and 11 p.m. Monday through Wednesday.

Michael's Cookie Jar opened its second location last week in the downtown tunnels at Pennzoil Place. The grand-opening celebration begins at noon and lasts until 4 p.m. Be one of the first 50 people at the event and receive a "sweet swag bag" filled with items from various local purveyors and treats from Michael's Cookie Jar. The new location will hold a "Cookie Hour" each afternoon and showcase many local vendors, including Mill-King milk, chocolates from Araya Artisan Chocolate, and coffee from Katz Coffee and Caphin Iced Vietnamese Coffee.

The second Local Foods opened for lunch on March 13 and will add its dinner service in approximately two weeks. This location will use ingredients sourced from area vendors, such as Slow Dough Bread, Atkinson Farms and Black Hill Ranch. Don't expect the same menu items as those at the original Local Foods, though. In fact, 30 percent of the menu includes new items; more vegetarian and vegan dishes; and rotisserie items, such as spit-roasted beef, duck, lamb and half-roasted rotisserie chicken. There's also a full bar featuring liquors from Texas distilleries and a rotating lineup of five local beers on tap.

The Houston Chronicle's Greg Morago reports that Pico's Mex-Mex has opened at the intersection of Kirby and Richmond. After last weekend's grand closing celebration, Pico's has once again moved inside the Loop, to 3601 Kirby.

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