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Crawfish Invade Memphis

Popular legend claims crawfish are descendants of lobsters that shrunk in size while traveling from Maine to Louisiana in search of the Cajuns who were banned to the swampy state in the late 1700s.

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Whatever.

We're happy the tasty crustaceans ended up in the region's freshwater marshes and even happier when crawfish boils herald the start of spring.

While most crawfish boils in Memphis are scattered through April, crawfish season runs from late February through June, says chef Clint Boutwell of Orleans on Front. He should know. His family has been boiling a spicy concoction of crawfish, corn, potatoes, mushrooms, sausages, and whole garlic for 30 years, a tradition he's continuing at his downtown restaurant.

"A crawfish boil is simple and spicy pot-cooking," Boutwell says. "And the spicier I can make it, the more beer I can sell."

Boutwell is planning crawfish boils (at $4.50 to $6 a pound) on Thursday nights and for afternoon block parties from noon to 6 p.m. on the last three Sundays in April. "We set the cooker up in the parking lot and boil about 400 pounds of crawfish at a time," he says. "It's a great excuse for a party."

Similar crawfish get-togethers are happening all over town this month, including at T.J. Mulligan's in the Pinch on Mondays at 7 p.m., at Owen Brennan's in East Memphis on Wednesdays at 6 p.m., and at Calhoun's Sports Bar in the South Main arts district on Sundays, starting about 5:30 p.m.

For $5 a pound, customers at Owen Brennan's are served crawfish, corn, potatoes, and hot dogs, says manager Lawson Baker. "We boil hot dogs with our crawfish, and they come out nice and spicy," he says. "The hot dogs are something a little different."

A similar price and recipe (sausages instead of hot dogs) are offered at Calhoun's on the bar’s new outdoor deck. "We've got a huge HD TV outside too," says owner Max Lawhon. "With television and the crawfish, it's a good time."

Of course, we can't forget about the festivals. The 14th Annual Overton Square Crawfish Festival Overton Square is Saturday, April 11th, from noon to 6 p.m. This annual festival, featuring one ton of crawfish, moves across the street this year to the Bayou Bar & Grill's new location. In addition to the crawfish, there will be Cajun fare provided by the Bayou as well as an excellent lineup of live music from Amy LaVere, Jump Back Jake, Snowglobe, and Johnny Lowebow. Proceeds go to the Alzheimer's Association Memory Walk.

Next up, it's the Rajun Cajun Crawfish Festival on Sunday, April 19th, at Wagner Place between Union and Beale. You haven't lived until you've seen a crawfish race, but the main event is at noon when 500 pounds of crawfish are given away. Benefits Porter-Leath.

by Pamela Denney

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