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Katie Davis

@PopCultureCuisine

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Shuckin’ Good!

Monday, October 18, 2010 @ 02:10 PM

134Hey PCC’ers…sorry for the long delay between posts, but Adam and I just got back from a whirlwind tour of Central Florida and all the attractions, including its cuisine, so I’ve been a little out of the loop. However, I promise this week’s feature is worth the wait and a place that is a must visit for all you seafood lovers out there, and comes out of our last culinary whirlwind adventure to New Orleans in May. I have already featured two of those restaurants here and here, both of which we were a bit disappointed with. Still, I know there is good food to be had in ‘The Big Easy,’ and this next restaurant proves it.

Casamento’s Restaurant has been feeding the locals and visitors alike at its small but mighty restaurant located on the famed Magazine Street for over 80 years.  Started in 1919 by Joe Casamento, an Italian immigrant, they have been serving up great seafood and other local favorites in what customers have often referred to as a “giant swimming pool”…because of its tiling décor.  Apparently Joe realized tile would be easier to keep clean than various other materials, so he had the whole place tiled…and I mean EVERYTHING.  Still, regardless of the decor, it is the food that keeps bringing people back, especially their oysters, which they are famous for as the best (locally known). 

We first got wind of Casamento’s long after our first trip to the Big Easy.  In planning for our 2nd trip to New Orleans, we happened to catch this clip of Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives” and we were sold hook, line, and sinker…

 

You’ll notice from the video clip that Guy mentions their unusual schedule.  In fact, they are closed June, July, and August, opening back up in Mid September; and although I’m sure this is disappointing to their customers, they do it for good reason…most of their prime seafood is out of season, so they really would not provide a good product. Also, because this place stays so busy, they likely are also in need of a major break!  Lucky for us, we caught them one week before they went on vacation, but we still got to wait in a pretty gnarly lunch line…!

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Pretty unassuming from the front, but you really do get the sense you are in a swimming pool when you enter those doors.  It is a fairly narrow building, much like many of the restaurants in New Orleans (hey…they’re old ;)).  The line you stand in makes its way through the restaurant and right next to the oyster bar.  What is so cool about this is that you are able to watch them shuck hundreds of oysters while you are standing there and you can even order them while you’re waiting. 

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I mean if that is not fresh, I am not sure what is….from cooler to plate in just under a minute if not less.

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…and that there is the same guy who was shucking all those oysters in the clip too. He is not only their best, but an oyster shucking champion! And I will agree he is mighty fast. 

After my last experience with oysters at Acme Oyster House, I have to say I was by no means an oyster lover.  Although I don’t know if I would put myself in the lover category quite yet, the oysters at Casamento’s definitely changed my opinion.  You could literally taste how fresh they were and their cocktail sauce complemented them well.  I happily ate a few while we were waiting and our friend Garrett (New Orleans native) polished off at least a dozen. He said they were the BEST HE’S EVER HAD!  In all, waiting by the oyster bar was a fun interactive experience and really made the time pass while we waited for a table.

When we were seated, I did not really need to look at the menu. I knew I would be getting the soft shell crab sandwich that I saw in the clip above.  I figured I had never tried the dish and I might as well give it a try at a place that is famous for them.  Adam, on the other hand, was still not feeling well, having pretty much not been able to hold down food for a whole day, so he went with the spaghetti and meatballs, hoping that the carbs would help his stomach settle and be bland enough as to not upset it further.  Garrett also ordered the soft shell crab and the gumbo, while Audra got the shrimp dinner.

 

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What is so crazy about the soft shell crab is that you are literally eating the whole crab!  I mean above is exactly how it comes out to you…fried legs and all.  They are all edible of course, which is the large difference between soft shell crab and your typical crab. Soft shell are harvested and cooked before their exoskeleton has a chance to solidify and harden, but it is weird nonetheless.  I must admit I was a bit wary of biting into something like that, but being the good little foodie that I am, I took a big ol’ bite for the sake of PCC… 🙂

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Not the most flattering photo…I know, but it gets the point across.  These are big sandwiches…or loafs as they are called here, because they are made with thick Italian loafs of bread, thus making it a whole lot of effort to get that bite in.  I was pleasantly surprised by the taste, texture, and flavor…but in a good way, and happily ate my whole sandwich.  Garrett informed us that this was not the best soft shell crab he had ever had, so if I liked this as much as I did, I am in for a real treat if I ever get one better. 

SIGNATURE DISH: Casamento’s really has two signature dishes…oysters and loafs. It would seem from both that clip and their website that they are really known for is their oyster loaf, but I guess that is splitting hairs.  Either way, the oysters are fabulous and truly the freshest and best tasting I have had to date.  It is easy to see how their master shucker won an award, because not only is he quick, but he knows the good ones to pick.  I think if we ever return, I will surely try the oyster loaf, because it looks delicious and I believe it must be better than the soft shell crab.

TASTE: I thought everything I ate was delicious and truly fresh tasting.  Too often I have had seafood that is wimpy and does not taste fresh or even good for that matter.  Both the oysters and soft shell crab sandwich were fantastic and I would easily go back for them.  I loved the bread the sandwich came on…so simple yet tasty enough to bring the sandwich together.  As I said above, I want to give that oyster loaf a try, so hopefully one day I will get the chance.

AMBIANCE: It’s truly a unique restaurant and really does feel like the inside of a pool or a restaurant from the 20’s.  It is very small and thus it takes a little while to be seated if you are visiting at a peak time. But still, it is a fun and boisterous atmosphere while you do so.  Their decor is not overly fancy, rather all you need to be comfortable while enjoying a good seafood.

PRICE: This is where things got a little harried…After 2 beers each, the 2 doz. oysters (which are $8.50 a dozen), the soup ($4.25 a cup), the soft shell crab sandwiches ($13.50 a piece), the shrimp platter, and the spaghetti, our bill was quite hefty.  I understand they are serving fresh seafood and these may be market prices, but come on…$13.50 for that simple sandwich was a bit ridiculous in my opinion! Therefore, this is not a place to order a sandwich if you’re on a tight budget.

SERVICE: The service could have been better. It was great while we were waiting at the bar. The men manning the oyster bar were very hospitable and a delight to hang out with. However, that is in major contrast to our waitress, who was actually sort of impatient.  I imagine this had to do largely to the fact that they are trying to get a large amount of people through the restaurant on a limited lunch time, but I still felt she was a little snippy and could have treated us like she cared.

So…although the prices and table-service were definite detractors, I still really enjoyed my experience at Casamento’s, and I would for sure go again, if at least so Adam could actually try some “real” food this time (he wanted the oysters SOOO BAD!).  I give Casamento’s Restaurant 3 ½ ‘Little Piggies.’

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