March 2007 Overall Rating: 4
By DAVE NORMAN
From licking fingers to sucking headnwhat was built as a location for barbeque is now the newest site for boiled crawfish. Big Al’s, a fixture on Grand Caillou Road in East Houma has opened its newest restaurant at 1377 W. Tunnel Blvd., on the west side.
The location was originally a Luther’s BBQ and then served as home to the estimable Savoie’s Louisiana Cooking.
After closing for a short time, the location reopened as Big Al’s last month.
I gotta say … this place feels like it was custom made for Big Al’s.
Al Mahler, the namesake owner of Big Al’s, ain’t … big, that is. But, he has been the king of down home seafood joints at his east side place for a very long time.
Bumper stickers attest to its success: “I Got In At Big Al’s.”
Getting in at the new place should be easier once the “new kid in town” syndrome wanes. However, the lines at the door could also mean the new location will suffer/benefit from the same bustling “place to be” éclat that is the Grand Caillou restaurant.
Judging a restaurant in its first few days/weeks/months is a dicey proposition, but this was the assignment. So, here goes.
As I drove up to the West Tunnel Boulevard restaurant, I wondered what changes had been made to the old girl.
As I discovered, the location was essentially the same. The rough-hewn wood is all still there, fitting the overall casual theme perfectly, but humor is now displayed on signs warning of “attack waitresses” and promising “free beerntomorrow.” The neon product signs seem to fit it, and a small and funky bar area towards the back is a great addition.
One can wait in comfort at the bar for a table or hang out and watch the big flatscreen.
There’s still a conference room in back, as well as another room for spillover crowds. Other than that, not much seems to have been done, but it all works.
The menu couldn’t be simpler (or cheapernas it also serves as a paper placemat and features equal space for advertising sponsors). Besides the featured boiled seafood, Big Al’s also has appetizers, salads and sandwiches, as well as daily plate lunches. The menu also offers dinners of mostly fried fare, along with four pasta dishes (shrimp or chicken teriyaki on rice or pasta, and crawfish or shrimp over pasta). It’s simple and typical … and yes, there are lowcal or low-fat dishes like grilled tuna steak and chicken dinners and salads with diet dressings.
We started with the Onion Mum (as it’s billed on the menu). It was served in all of its crispy, hunk o’ onion blossom glory, even rivaling Outback’s Bloomin’ Onionnthe gold standard for this marvel of 1990’s food technology.
The seafood gumbo was a bit heavy on the rice, but the flavor and plentiful seafood meat more than offset our preference for a juicer version. The crab soup came, saw and conquered. Simplicity personified, the soup was heavy with cream and butter, chock full of fresh and oh-so-seasoned crabmeat. Another appetizer, Charbroiled Oysters, was lustedfor, but our ardor remains unrequited, as they weren’t yet available.
On to the available boiled seafood, there were crawfish and shrimp offered this night (crabs weren’t to be found here, although they were to be had elsewhere in town). The crawfish are the classic version, redolent of Zatarain’s and suggestive of relatively longer boiling times with salt added before turning the boilers off (but these are only guesses).
There is a lot to be said for this old school style, and most of you reading this have already said it. The shrimp were expertly done, smartly taken off the fire and out of the pot so that the shells easily slid off and the meat was left juicy yet firm.
We also sampled the Fried Softshell Crab dinner, which was a most respectable example of the species.
Golden-brown batter encased a generous-sized and fresh crab that was caught at just the right time to be enjoyed, softly.
The service was, well, unseasoned. But to be fair, as I must, it was Lundi Gras and the place was packed. And did I mention it’s not fair to judge a restaurant in its embryonic stage?
Overall, the west side of Houma is fortunate to have a true top-drawer sitdown boiled seafood emporium like Big Al’s. If you don’t want to take my word for it, see for yourself…if you can ever get in.
1377 W. Tunnel Blvd., Houma
RESERVATIONS NOT REQUIRED
PLENTY OF PARKING
DESIGNATED SMOKING AREA
CREDIT CARDS ACCEPTED
HOURS: Tuesday-Thursday 11:00am-9:00pm
Friday & Saturday 11:00 am-10:00 pm
Sunday 4:00 pm-9:00 pm