Neighborhood Joints

Crawdaddy Wednesdays at the Federal: Welcome to Crawfish Heaven

If you still don't believe in global warming, have a chat with chef and owner of the Federal Food Drink & Provisions, Cesar Zapata, whose favorite time of the year was pushed back because of Mother Earth's changing moods and seasons. "Usually, crawfish season starts in late February," he says. "But not this year. It was too cold."

He and partner Aniece Meinhold look forward to crawfish season all year, which kicked off two weeks ago and will continue till about June, maybe July. "The only good thing about the season starting late is it'll end late too," he hopes.

And in celebration of the third-annual Crawdaddy Wednesdays, the Federal has introduced a bevy of crawfish dishes to sate your craving for the freshwater crustacean that looks like an itty-bitty lobster.

The Fed is one of the few places in the Magic City that serves buckets of the Louisiana delicacy. So it's no wonder that last week at 8 p.m., the restaurant had already sold out of the traditional crawfish boil. "Week one went well, so we upped the ante for week two and ordered about 70 pounds to make sure we were covered. Still wasn't enough." Not when a nearby table of eight people wanted to order 20 pounds.

Rest assured, tonight's boil will see that more crawfish are sucked clean than ever before. "We'll probably have a little over a hundred pounds." Crawdaddy Wednesdays begin at 6 p.m., so make a reservation and get there promptly. The early bird gets the crawfish.

If the Fed runs out of the Cajun-style boil — which includes the freshwater creatures with andouille sausage, corn, and potato — there are about five other ways to get your fix.

Disclaimer: Crawdaddy Wednesdays are not for the faint of heat — spice is a main ingredient in the boil (in a good way). And although my nose was running and mouth was on fire, I couldn't resist finishing every last bit of crayfish. Pro tip: The potato bits and wine help. "This is actually mild," general manager Dominic Montinola said as he laughed and assured me I wouldn't survive in New Orleans. "You should see how spicy it is up there."

The price for the boil depends upon the market. "As the season continues, we'll probably see prices drop," Zapata says. But quantity in this case has an opposite effect on quality. "The crawfish also get better into the season."
With the first year of Crawdaddy Wednesdays came the introduction of crawfish 'n' grits ($14), which you can now get every Sunday during brunch. And even though it's an oldie, it's still a goodie (and also a good way to balance out the spice from the boil).
If you can handle the heat, try the Cajun popcorn crawfish, with spicy rémoulade and pickled serrano chilies ($14), which is available during Crawdaddy Wednesdays but is also the newest addition to the dinner menu. "We had someone who wanted fried calamari and we didn't have any, but I did have some crawfish, so I made it for him and it stuck."
For something on the milder side, the crawfish corn cake ($14) is a twist on the country corn cake. Sweet corn, crawfish, garden herbs, and herbed buttermilk are mixed with a cornmeal batter. Add salmon caviar for $4 if you wanna get fancy.
Overdo it with crawfish po'boy sliders ($8), which have the same spicy rémoulade as the popcorn crawfish.

"This is our favorite time of the year," Meinhold says. "There are people who never come except for crawdaddy season, and even though it's a seasonal ingredient, we get calls for it all year long."

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Carla Torres found her inner gourmand voice while writing for Miami New Times in 2012. She has also worked with Travel & Leisure and Ocean Drive. She balances passions for wine, sweets, yoga, and kayaking.