Hot N Juicy Crawfish, which opened in July, adds a deliciously lowbrow option to Orlando's Restaurant Row's celebrated highbrow mix of eateries. This is the fourth location for the fledgling chain, which also has restaurants in Las Vegas and Washington, D.C.
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- 7572 W Sand Lake Rd, Orlando, FL 32836, USA
Two people can quickly work their way through a pound as an appetizer. But a pound per person is better if you're calling it lunch or dinner. (If you order two pounds, the restaurant throws in one serving each of corn and potato.)
The mild lemon-pepper crawfish I ordered yielded plump sweet meat and the requisite splattered table and messy hands. For neophytes, the flavor is similar to rock shrimp and lobster. The mild spice had a pleasant, subtle kick to it.
We tempered the slight sting of the crawfish with a soft-shell crawfish basket ($11.99), fried bliss with lemony, ultra-chilled tartar sauce and fries.
I cut into the center of one of the crisp, cornmeal-cloaked three planks of catfish ($10.99) and discovered a patch of uncooked meat. Our server immediately apologized and whisked the plastic basket away. He returned later with a fresh basket of properly cooked fish that had a mild-clean flavor and deleted the basket's cost from our bill. That's good training and good business. (I'd wager the uncooked part of the fish survived the deep-fryer swim because the fillet may have still been frozen in the thickest sections.)
My colleague's fried shrimp po' boy ($7.99 sandwich only, $9.99 with fries) was cradled in fresh French bread and lightly dressed with mayo, lettuce and tomato. Po' boys can also be ordered with catfish, crawfish and country-style chicken.
The lunch brigade was light during my visit. Servers remained attentive and greeted all guests as soon as the front door opened.
Crawfish certainly are the star of the show here, but guests can order blue crab in season, snow crab legs, king crab legs, and lobster at market price.
Hot N Juicy's dining format is communal eating at its best, which makes it a good spot for groups that like to order a lot of menu items and share. Sides are extra but bargain-priced. One serving of corn, for example, is 75 cents and a mound of shareable sweet potato fries is $4.25.
I've sharpened my crawfish skills between sets at many New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festivals. Your first attempts may seem like a lot of untidy work for a small amount of protein. Give yourself some time and you will be twisting off heads, unzipping the soft undersides and pulling out the sweet rewards with ease.
Just leave the white shirt at home. No bib can help you in white.
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Hot N Juicy Crawfish
Where: 7572 W. Sand Lake Road, Orlando (in Plaza Venezia near Starbucks)
When: Noon-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, noon-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Beverages: Soft drinks, beer and wine
Wines by the glass: From $7.50
Extras: Takeout and good for groups
Wheelchair access: Easy
Credit: Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover