Grabbing you by the hand like an old friend, the rich aromatics wafting out onto the street give you no choice before pulling you over the threshold into the vintage-painting-peppered walls of Crawdaddy’s Creole Kitchen. Your fate past that point is completely up to you.
Delicate wouldn’t automatically be the word summoned to your head when thinking of Southern comfort food, but Chef Michael Boulos could balance his flavor profiles on the tip of a paring knife — each intentionally curated with a conscious hand on the seasoning, and a heavy pour from the heart.
“When it comes to working with the flavor profiles of New Orleans, it’s all about depth of flavor, balance, and not compromising with the butter,” says the chef and owner. Let your mind wander too far and you might swear you’re in the Big Easy. The seafood gumbo is an “everybody in the pool” moment, as shrimp, mussels, oysters, and crawfish backstroke around tender andouille sausage, fluffy rice, and a nutty smoky broth with a fat content that is never questioned but gentle enough that it doesn’t steal center stage.
The shiny new restaurant (a few doors from Boulos’ The Raconteur) could easily be a notch on the chef’s gastro bedpost, but its importance echoes generations into his past. “My mom is Sicilian, and my dad is Brooklyn-born Lebanese, but by way of Haiti through my grandfather,” the famous John “Frenchy” Boulos of National Soccer Hall of Fame pedigree. “We had a lot of Haitian and French influence growing up. I became obsessed with Southern food as a kid on trips to the Carolinas,” he says. Paired with a lifelong fascination with New Orleans, “Crawdaddy’s has been my dream for almost 15 years.”
With all the hallmarks of a good time, from buttery velvet seating to mesmerizing neon, let your mischievous side take over when perusing the menu. Crunchy hushpuppies come with a side of blueberry butter for a kiss of sweetness, silky crawfish étouffée melts in your mouth, and the shrimp and grits transcends the barbecue flavors you’re used to finding in someone’s summertime backyard. Massive peel-and-eat Gulf shrimp linger in a spicy shellfish sauce for a bite you won’t mind getting your hands dirty for. Wash it all down with a Hurricane or a Louisiana beer like Abita, and you’ll be reflexively humming jazz as the good vibes take over.
The final layer in Boulos’ atmosphere is the simplest, yet it’s often scant in kitchens. “This is food for the soul,” he says. “You can’t cook it right by just following a recipe; you need to put love into it.”
68 Wheeler Ave, Pleasantville; 914.449.6199; crawdaddyscreolekitchen.com