It's an ill wind indeed that blows nobody good. Forget what El Nino has done to leafy lettuce, and give thanks that it's gusted our Gulf Coast crawfish season clear through May and into June. "This time last year, we weren't even selling crawfish," says John Volpe of the King Fish Market (6356 Richmond, 974-3474). "The tails were empty."
Admittedly, this year got off to a rocky start, with crawfish unavailable, undersized or downright unappetizing. But here it is the middle of May, normally past peak season, and the crawfish are as big as baby lobsters, with hard shells and tails filled to bursting. Volpe says we can hope to spend the next three (maybe four) weeks in mudbug heaven.
Although most of the crawfish festivals running on a non-Nino calendar are done and gone, you can still make it to the biggest in the state. The 12th annual Texas Crawfish Festival will span two weekends in Old Town Spring, May 22 through 24 and 29 through 31. Roughly 100,000 visitors are expected to scarf down 40,000 pounds of the critters, boiled, etouffeed, gumboed and pastried. Five bucks will get you in the gates if you're over 12, and you can count on an earful of Cajun, zydeco, country, rock and blues. Smart folks will opt for the free shuttle bus from Spring High School; the rest may find a parking spot by the Fourth of July.
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And there are plenty of non-festival fishing holes, including the aforementioned King Fish Market ($3.50 per pound during happy hour, weekdays 3 to 7 p.m.). Downtown, try the Zydeco Louisiana Diner (1119 Pease, 759-2001), where crawfish go for $2.95 per pound, Tuesday through Friday through the first week in June. The Ragin Cajun (4302 Richmond, 623-6321) sells 'em in odd-sized lots, one and three-quarter pounds for $7.49 or three and a half pounds for $11.99; both orders are served with corn, potatoes and a bib that you're gonna need.
Floyd Landry, whose name is a local synonym for "crawfish," is once again holding court in his old digs, now christened Floyd's Cajun Kitchen (1200 Durham, 864-5600). There, the crawfish go for $3.95 a pound -- but at another Landry operation, Floyd's Cajun Kitchen on Chimney Rock (3111 Chimney Rock, 784-2653) -- they're cheaper by a buck a pound.
Floyd's on Shepherd (1511 Shepherd, 861-3287) has nothing to do with Floyd Landry -- but it does offer crawdads, corn and potatoes boiled with Cajun gourmet spices for $3 a pound on Tuesdays, $3.50 other days. And, says waiter Daniel French, there's a "party all the time."
Cafe Pappadeaux (2410 Richmond, 527-9137) also dishes discount bugs on Tuesdays ($2.95 a pound, 5 to 10 p.m.). You can wash them down with $1.50 domestic beers or a murky green mixture ominously called a "Swamp Thing.