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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

My First Thoughts on Crispy Catch

by Jay D. Ducote

First things first: I enjoyed the food. No, it didn't stand out as revolutionary, inventive, or inspired. Then again, I don't believe anybody ever said that it would be. Crispy Catch is what it is – a place to get fried catfish fingers, fries, hushpuppies (or as they call them, corn bobbers), and boudin balls akin to Tony's Seafood, which are some of the most snackable and magical boudin balls in the world. They finished second in our ranking of Baton Rouge balls. The restaurant itself is a new fast-casual concept seeking to bring the flavors of Louisiana to a hungry audience.

Immediately upon walking up to the restaurant that has been built out of the old, iconic Kean's Dry Cleaning building near the Perkins Road overpass, you get the sense that they are going for something bigger than just one location. The branding screams corporate, like they've already designed their logo and color palate to expand to numerous locations. It may work. There is clear evidence of utilizing a Raising Cane's model, which certainly paid dividends for them.

Catfish Fingers at the new Crispy Catch on Perkins

Like Cane's, which started at the nearby North Gates of LSU, Crispy Catch offers a welcoming environment and a simple menu. There are four main combinations to order with different amounts of fried catfish and extras. They also offer fish tacos, which I definitely want to try but haven't yet. I opted for the Surf & Turf combo – the meal that came with boudin balls in addition to the catfish, fries, cole slaw, and hush puppies. The total for the entire plate and a drink came out to just over $13.

Based on the way the combo came out on a plate with fries and catfish fingers, I couldn't help but to think of Cane's and their chicken fingers with crinkle cut fries. They even had their signature "Reel Sauce," a remoulade style sauce very similar to Cane's Sauce. All in all, the fries weren't all that much to speak of, though they were fries, and certainly not bad. They were plentiful and thin cut, but not to the point of being shoestring.The cole slaw offered very little to my taste buds, though I suppose a little tang to go with all the fried food isn't bad.

Compared to Cane's (not they have to be compared to Cane's, but they brought the compare and contrast on themselves), I noticed the absence of fresh squeezed lemonade and really good sweet tea. The beverage options were pretty much limited to a Coca-Cola lineup of fountain drinks, which I feel can be improved upon. If you want to be a local joint, bring in a cooler with some Swamp Pop and other regional beverages. If the idea is to build something that can be scaled to many locations, and you're copying Cane's anyway, don't underestimate the value of the beverages.

Another thing that makes Crispy Catch fast-casual but not necessarily "fast food" is that there is no drive through. Nothing wrong with that, though the convenience sales to night-owls in the overpass area could be a good business model. That being said, as of now the hours at Crispy Catch don't go into the late night market anyway.

The star of the show definitely proved to be the fried fish, with a nod to the boudin balls as well. At the end of the day, a place is judged on what they truly claim to be good at, and at Crispy Catch that's the USA farm raised catfish fingers. The don't do any whole filets of catfish. They don't fry shrimp or any other Louisiana seafood. The star of their limited menu is the catfish, and it lived up to expectations. The slender strips of catfish are marinated and battered in seasoned flour. It is a departure from the more common cornmeal style fish fry base around here, but I didn't mind. The catfish indeed had plenty of crispiness. The reel sauce and the house tartar sauce were both great dips for the catfish.

I also can't complain about the hush puppies or boudin balls. I'd even go back for the boudin balls. They really are very similar to Tony's, which again, is good in my book. In fairness, the owners of Crispy Catch are tied to the family that owns Tony's, though they no long share any stock in the famous seafood market. Still, I can see why if they wanted to put boudin balls on the menu that they'd go with a replica of the Italian-inspired boudin ball.

I can see myself going back to Crispy Catch, but I don't know how often. The very limited menu will make it hard to go often. And the fact that they aren't as convenient nor do they have all the intangibles as Cane's means they won't really get the quick-meal-on-my-way-home kind of business. And as much as I've compared Crispy Catch to Raising Cane's, it is missing perhaps the most important element: the "One Love" motto and attitude. I didn't feel it. I just had a decent fried catfish platter, but nothing else about the experience would make me identify with the brand. Perhaps in time they'll find their own motto.


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