RAISING THE OYSTER BAR
Luke Parrish, a West Monroe native, moved back home after living in East Texas to open Monroe’s newest eateries, Clawdaddy’s Crawfish and Oyster Bar.
article by VANELIS RIVERA / photography KELLY MOORE CLARK
“Obviously, the way you cook ‘em is critical.” Luke Parrish, the owner of Clawdaddy’s Crawfish And Oyster Bar, eagerly divulged his take on the few ways crawfish are prepared. “One method,” he continues, “is you boil ‘em in regular water, and then you put them in an ice chest and you put seasoning over the top of them and you close the lid.” But, that creates a problem. “What that does is it gets the seasoning on the outside of the shell. So, while you’re eating them, your hands are always caught up in the season.” Though Parrish admits that there is no right or wrong method to boiling our favorite mudbug, he prefers to use the “soak method” where the crawfish are cooked then saturated for 20 minutes in concentrated seasoned water, so the tender meat absorbs the seasoning. The careful attention Parrish and his cook staff give such a simple yet flavorful feast is why customers rave that “his team hit a home run every day they open the doors.”
Parrish is very much a straightforward man. “Well, my name is Luke Parrish. I’m 41 years old and I’m from West Monroe, Louisiana.” Though he is a local boy, he moved off to East Texas to work in an IT business, which he stayed in for about 6 years until he “fell into” the restaurant industry. “I’ve always loved cooking and entertaining, mostly entertaining. And we actually were having a crawfish boil in our front yard and some people just pulled up and asked if they could buy some.” Parrish didn’t oblige, but when he did it again the following weekend he purchased “little” 5-pound bags that he did sell. When 5-pound bags turned into 400, he realized that there was a crawfish demand in a town of about 5000 people. “You got about 15 minutes each way to get crawfish,” he explains, so he found a “little spot” to rent, put up a banner, and set up shop. “But, I didn’t know the first thing about opening up a business or much less a restaurant,” admits Parrish. Regardless, he had a packed house. At one point, he remembers having about 100 people in line who were on the verge of getting testy because on opening night they hadn’t hired enough workers to cater to that magnitude. “We were kind of winging it,” he admits, but some quick thinking tempered the tension. “I knew that if I could put a drink in everybody’s hands that they wouldn’t be quite so mad.” He took the six bottles of liquor he had in stock, mixed them all together, and made his own version of a New Orleans Hurricane cocktail, which consequently was turned into a tradition. “We would do about 12 gallons a weekend of Hurricanes at that little place.”
“I was very transparent with my struggles,” says Parrish about his experience in Mineola, Texas. “They saw me out there building picnic tables with my hands.” The people came together for him, reminding him about the importance of community. “I’ll never be a part of a restaurant that doesn’t have community built into it,” he says, fondly recalling an unexpected kindness. One time, he had a cashbox of about $400 that was stolen. He posted the event online hoping to receive information and that resulted in some neighborhood kids building a lemonade stand in front of his restaurant, later giving the proceeds to Parrish. “That’s the same kind of place that I want to build [in Monroe],” he says.
About a year ago, he returned to his old Ouachita Parish stomping ground, to “slow down for a little while.” Still wanting to work in the restaurant business, he took his talents to Buffalo Wild Wings as their general manager, but very quickly realized it wasn’t the place for him. “I’m either going to be an entrepreneur and have my own restaurant or not be involved in restaurants.” He wasn’t sure what else to do until a building popped up that a friend thought he might be interested in. The minute he saw the patio, he knew he was back in business. Initially, he was drawn to the wood framing and the 12-foot window that connects to the bar, allowing patrons to order drinks while still outside. “It also opens up the whole restaurant.” Also, he loves that if he ever wanted to adjoin additional patio space, it could easily wrap around the restaurant.
“The menu is simple,” Parrish reveals. “You can’t do thirty things really well, right? You can do eight things really well. You can do thirty things just pretty good.” Pleased with his eight menu items, Parrish attests that the one thing you should “absolutely get” is the Debris Po-Boy. “This is a must-have at Clawdaddy’s,” reads the menu: sliced roast beef and ham, topped with debris (shredded roast beef simmered in the drippings), and dressed in mayo, light Cajun mustard, cabbage “for crunch,” tomatoes, and pickles. The one other Louisiana sandwich listed on the menu is the Oyster Po-Boy which features their cornmeal battered and fried oysters “piled high” and dressed in mayo, Remoulade, cabbage (“Please don’t hold the cabbage; that’s what makes it!”), tomatoes, and pickles. This classic creole seafood dive also serves a selection of “From the Fryer” items like fish (“Crispiest in town!”), shrimp, oysters, and chicken strips. Of course, come February to mid-May, it’s prime time for fresh, live crawfish, which is when the restaurant’s appellation comes into play. While the eatery uses a standard seasoning mix, Parrish adds his personal combination of cayenne and garlic, a “winner” pairing that customers have been loving. Be sure to add sausage or mushrooms to the three pounds you’ll be getting with one piece of corn and two potatoes. Other items on the “From the Boiler” section include shrimp and snow crab, which is served with drawn butter, one piece of corn, and two potatoes.
It goes without saying that anytime crawfish are on a menu, they are the craveable item, but when they’re not in season, there has to be another menu item that steps up to the plate. That menu item at Clawdaddy’s is Gulf oysters. Receiving about four shipments a week, the restaurant prides itself in having the “coldest and cleanest oysters,” claiming that you can taste the “freshness.” Parrish’s dedication to the saltwater delicacies arises from his personal experiences going to oyster bars. “There’s a certain feeling, a certain atmosphere,” says Parrish about restaurants that specialize in char-grilled oysters. Specifically, he refers to the visible oyster grill that usually is placed “right in the middle of the restaurant,” so that when you order your dozen oysters, you see them go into a 3 to 4-foot flame. “You see a guy taking off, plating them up for you, and the waitress bringing them up for you,” he recalls, adding that one of his favorite oyster establishments, Drago’s Seafood Restaurant, has an 18-foot grill. “I’m sitting there, watching the guys shuck ‘em from scratch, and then put them on the grill, flame them, and I’m thinking, ‘This is the kind of place that would work for Monroe.’”
n oyster grill is a pricey item, even for an established restaurant, but Parrish was confident in the “crave volume” his grilled oysters would produce. While he waited for the grill to arrive, which took about two months, he added raw oysters to the menu but was a bit skeptical of their pull. “I didn’t think anybody was even gonna come or not.” Initially, he wanted to get 15 cases, which is about 1500 oysters, but a friend talked him down into purchasing 10 cases, considering that not many people were going to rush in for raw oysters. “We sold [all] ten on opening night,” laughs Parrish. His father ended up having to drive to the coast at two in the morning to purchase 30 more cases, which sold out that Saturday afternoon. “Our salespeople were like, ‘We’ve never seen anything like that before,’” he recalls, clearly myth-busting the low demand of raw oysters in the area. When 10 cases grew to 60 (about 6000 oysters), the restaurant team had to learn the art of quick shucking. Recently, the restaurant celebrated shucking their 80,000th oyster in only their tenth week in business. So, whether you like them raw, right out of the shell, like Parrish, or grilled to perfection, an order of oysters from Clawdaddy’s is sure to hook you into coming back for more.
Though a relatively new business, Parrish has already established an atmosphere of community, one which has ties to his own childhood. “When I was a kid playing baseball, we’d always go eat afterward. We didn’t want to sit with [just] our families,” he laughs. Remembering the feeling of wanting to eat at a separate table with friends, Parrish created a room with a long table that seats about 28 people. “We call it the dugout.” The walls are decorated with jerseys from each of the local high schools, further cementing the importance of reveling in local unity.
As part of what can be considered the crawfish belt of the United States, Northeast Louisiana always has a distinct culinary advantage, and now, thanks to dedicated restaurant owners like Parrish, our area is getting more than just good southern eating. We’re getting care, community, and crazy good seafood!
Clawdaddy’s Crawfish And Oyster Bar is located 7601 Hwy 165 N, Suite 101, Monroe, LA 71203 and is open Monday, Thursday, and Friday between 4 to 9 PM and Saturday and Sunday between 11 AM to 9 PM. Follow them on Facebook to learn more about weekly specials.