Mudbug masters 

Bibs are not optional at this no-frills crustacean canteen

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Hot N Juicy Crawfish

7572 W. Sand Lake Road

This isn’t fine dining. Hot N Juicy Crawfish is taking a chance by setting up in the middle of hoity Restaurant Row, and the chic brick interior belies the barbaric eating that goes on here. But it’s fun: head-ripping, innards-sucking, tail-peeling, finger-licking fun.

As soon as we sat down, we were outfitted with two lobster bibs. There’s no silverware on the table – or salt and pepper, for that matter. Tables are set with only a roll of paper towels and covered in a white plastic sheet.

The message? You will get messy here.

Ordering is simple and the service is unwaveringly cheerful and attentive. Seafood is served by the pound at market price (except for crawfish, which runs a solid $10 per pound) and is steamed in a plastic bag with your choice of seasonings and spice level. What they call “appetizers” on the menu are actually seafood baskets, served with either regular or ultra-spicy Cajun fries. The soft-shell crab basket ($11.99) was piled with four tiny crabs, halved, battered and crispy-fried. The crawfish étouffée ($6.99), though undersalted for my palate, was liberally stuffed with the holy trinity of Cajun cooking (green pepper, celery, onion) and plenty of curly crawfish tails on a bed of rice. Don’t expect any of the usual restaurant ceremony, though – the stew is served in a Styrofoam cup with a plastic spoon stuck in the middle.

Our sweet server plunked down two bags in front of us: one full of two pounds of crawdads (the recommended serving size) and one full of king crab legs. We were given nutcrackers and picks, a bucket lined with a plastic bag and a good-luck smile. The server was happy to give us a tutorial on peeling the crawfish and even suggested sucking the innards out of the head, “if you’re into that kind of thing.” I am.

I was jealous of my partner’s “Hot n Juicy Special” seasoning, a combo of all the seasonings together, though my buttery “Juicy Cajun” seasoning was still succulent and accentuated the freshwater flavors of the crawfish. He was jealous, though, that with my mudbugs came a half-ear of corn on the cob and a red potato. (I’m not in the habit of eating potatoes with my hands, but I may from now on.) The king crab legs were lovely and filling; just the right amount of the seasoning had seeped in through the crustacean’s carapace to flavor the meat.

It took us about an hour to get through the bags (peeling crawfish is especially time-consuming), and with no access to wet wipes, even reaching over for my drink raised the “ick” factor.

After all that, I was dying for something sweet, but Hot N Juicy hasn’t added any desserts to their menu yet. Our server told me the Las Vegas-based chain is “waiting to see” if dessert would be a good investment. The po’boy sandwiches on the menu are unique to the Orlando location, but a cold cup of ice cream or a popsicle would have been even more welcome.

We embraced the experience, though, and dove in as best we could, leaving our table manners at the door.


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