Boiling mad

Diners go nuts for this Cajun diveâ??s crawfish boils

'Smell my fingers,â?� my dining comrade commanded after decapitating a freshly boiled crawfish, thrusting her cayenne-tinged digits into my face. The scent of garlic, spices and the sea made me want to lap that hand like a thirsty mutt, thumb to pinky and everywhere in between. But that wouldn't have been appropriate, given my unstained hands were longing to be reddened and licked themselves. And that we were dining in public.

If thoughts of Louisiana crawfish lead to thoughts of sea life caked in crude oil, rest assured these crawfish are farm-raised. The only thing crude is the manner in which the little buggers are devoured ' twist off the head and suck the juice, then pinch the tail and pull the meat. A pretty mess, no doubt, and we devoured a pound ($6.99) of the medium-sized crustaceans while going through about a thousand paper napkins. (Where are the Wet-Naps?) Our seasoning choice ' 'sha bangâ?� ' amounted to a blend of lemon pepper, garlic butter and Cajun spices. Even at 'mediumâ?� heat it was enough to set the nose of another of my dining companions to trickling, requiring strategic placement of the bone bucket. On the side, corn on the cob ($1.50) is mandatory ' sweet and swimming in a pool of seasoned (read: spicy) butter. Pass on the subpar potato salad ($1.50) and coleslaw ($1.50) and go for the Hershey-Kiss-shaped hush puppies ($1.50) ' the bite-sized fritters were gone before we even knew it.

A bowl of gumbo ($3.95), we thought, would offer a proper pre-crawdad indulgence. Purporting to be based on a 'spicy roux,� the soup was disappointingly thin and lacked the dark reddish-brown hue that typifies the Cajun stew. The restaurant is run by a pleasant Vietnamese family who moved to Orlando from New Orleans, and I couldn't help but think that the soup's consistency was more like phò and less like gumbo. To its credit, the assemblage did include a heap of sausage, shrimp, chicken and okra.

I would've liked to have seen a Vietnamese po'boy (aka a bánh mì) as part of their sandwich offerings, but we were nonetheless pleased with the catfish po'boy ($5.95), even if the bread wasn't true crispy Louisiana-style French bread. (Note: If you're jonesing for a muffuletta, you won't find it here.) No surprise seeing basa ($7.95), a mild-flavored Vietnamese river fish, on the menu. It's given a cornmeal treatment here, then battered and fried, resulting in the desired texture combo ' flaky flesh and crispy skin. As a bonus, we got three fillets instead of the advertised two. For dessert, we got none of the advertised three ' cheesecake ($2.75), pecan pie ($2.75) or fried banana ($2.75) ' as they were all out, so we opted to end with some wonderfully potent Café du Monde coffee ($1.75) though, admittedly, we missed the beignets. The cuppa joe stoked our inner chatterbox and we found ourselves settling in and comfortably yapping away in this small, fan-blown space. The eatery comprises all the elements of a coastal dive minus the coast, and like the aroma wafting from my companion's fingers, we interminably lingered.

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