Everyone is crazy over crawfish right now—to say otherwise in the midst of spring is practically sacrilege—but that is no reason to overlook one of the region's most prized catches: fresh Gulf shrimp. Whether you're slurping down some gumbo made with flavorful brown shrimp, nibbling sweet white shrimp in a delicate ceviche, or treating yourself to a plate of buttery Royal Reds—shrimp are pretty much a local staple and consuming them, a way of life.
Not only is it delightful to devour Gulf shrimp, but shrimping itself truly means life for many families in Louisiana. The shrimping industry in our state alone accounts for over 15,000 jobs and carries an annual impact of $1.3 billion! And that's taking into account the fact that over 90 percent of the shrimp consumed in this country are imported from places like Thailand and Indonesia. Could you imagine what the industry could do for our local economy if Americans, who eat an average of four pounds of shrimp per year, bought solely Gulf shrimp? Do I really need to remind New Orleanians to “eat local”?
Regardless of its social and economic impact, Gulf shrimp are delicious, plentiful, and delightfully affordable. Folks have long (over 400 years already!) taken advantage of their abundance and there's certainly no reason to stop now.
Aside from the fried shrimp po-boy, one of the most ubiquitous Southern shrimp dishes would have to be shrimp and grits. Though different interpretations abound, one recently discovered at Uptown restaurant Cavan indubitably stands out. If dining in an “honestly salvaged” mansion built in the late 1800s isn't enough to whet your appetite, just try one of the many dishes (executed now by Chef Nathan Richards) that rarely fail to delight—especially the Butter-Baked Shrimp & Grits. Made with Gulf shrimp, beer, fresh rosemary, and lemon, these plump beauties are served atop a bed of creamy, jalapeno-Irish cheddar grits. Don't be stingy with the smoked lemon half served in the center; it acts as much more than a colorful garnish, something you'll realize after squeezing the juice liberally over the whole dish before diving in … fingers first.
Speaking of finger-food, you may want to skip over to Mid-City and try the “Shrimp Puppies” at Rosedale before Chef Brett Duffee takes them off the ever-changing menu. Skewered, battered, and deep fried, these gigantic, sweet shrimp are served with a sweet pepper relish that you just might eat with a spoon—well, if there's any left after the puppies are devoured. If these aren't available, you can avail yourself of Rosedale's Rosemary BBQ Shrimp (still finger-licking good) or a plate of their Shrimp Creole served with fried eggplant and rice.
Another dish easily found all over the city, especially “old-school” establishments like Galatoire's, Arnaud's, and Clancy's, would have to be shrimp remoulade. Though one might want to try this classic at one of the “Grand Dames” of Creole cuisine, it might be more affordable to seek alternatives. One highly feasible option would have to be The Munch Factory. For several years, this casual, neighborhood eatery was located in Gentilly, but recently, owner Alexis Ruiz decided to move the restaurant to a more popular locale in the Lower Garden District. Regardless of where they lay their hat, Chef Jordan Ruiz's version of shrimp remoulade served atop crispy fried green tomatoes is a stunner. Pair it with a bowl of seafood gumbo, and lunch is “on.”
Finally, though there are a surprising number of great sushi spots in the GNO area, a fast-growing favorite would have to be Asuka Sushi & Hibachi in Gert Town. Located on that odd little jut of land between Colapissa Street and Earhart Boulevard (right behind the beached, marlin-topped Jeep advertising Daiquiri Island Sports Bar), Asuka is an unassuming spot featuring tasty and affordable sushi, sashimi, and other Japanese fare. Aside from terrific lunch specials (two select rolls with soup and salad for less than $9!) and delivery service to the surrounding area, Asuka makes some seriously badass rolls. One in particular will set your salivary glands in motion: the “lightly fried” Louisiana Roll. Made with tempura shrimp, snow crab, crawfish, avocado, masago (smelt roe), and cream cheese all drizzled in their own special sauce, this decadent roll only proves the old adage, “You can have your shrimp and eat crawfish too!”