I knew it was only a matter of time before my dad and stepmother, both recent transplants to Charlotte from the Gulf, would drag me out to my first crawfish boil. I could already anticipate the scene - shells flying in the humid outdoor air, sweaty red plastic cups, rolls of paper towel littered about and people with savory debris all over their clothes and faces.
This month, e2 emeril's eatery is hosting all-you-can-eat crawfish boils every Friday for $5 a person. For those of you unaware of what a crawfish boil is, imagine the Southern version of a clam bake - a ton of people get together and boil a combination of heavily seasoned crawfish and other vittles, drink lots of cold beer, gab and enjoy gorging themselves in the Southern outdoors. It's a staple of Gulf and bayou culture.
Walking onto e2's patio, I wasn't sure what to expect. I love to eat, and there was a massive amount of food (the price was a steal), so I suppose that was an immediately satisfying aspect. But something about this faux-New Orleans niche in Charlotte, a city culturally confused by its amalgamation of transplants and lifelong inhabitants, definitely bothered me. The beads at the entrance, the over-present banker attire and the stamp of Emeril approval (an Italian chef with high-class restaurants who boasts a New Orleans legitimacy? Come on ... ) over it all made for a nagging sense of plasticity.
I have to admit, though, that the food was great.
The crawfish, seasoned and boiled with corn, potatoes, mushrooms and Andouille sausage, were delicious, especially when you were lucky enough to fight your way to the boil table and get them hot. A sleeper hit, the spicy Andouille sausage had a hearty "snap" and soft, juicy filling that really floored me. I nearly ate as much of that as I did crawfish, and I don't really care for sausage.
Some complained the shellfish was too spicy. My stepmother, however, a born-and-raised girl from the Gulf, did not find them anywhere near the level of spice she prefers.
"On a scale of one to 10, the spice level is about a two," she told me. "It's nothing like back home."
Right after she said this, I went to the bathroom and found a grown man crying at the sink yelling, "They're so f*cking hot!" I guess it's really a matter of perspective.
$5 every Friday in May. 4:30 p.m.-7 p.m. e2 emeril's eatery, 135 Levine Avenue of the Arts.