The fresher the gator, the better the flavor

by Mary Tutwiler

Ridge Road is a little bit off the beaten path for me, so I didn't notice when Deaneaux's Seafood closed several months ago. I also didn't notice when LA Seafood House opened in its stead.

Perhaps that was a good thing, because it gave former Deaneaux's owner Tim Metcalf time to pair up with fitness expert Cody McCown and develop a concept to bring the freshest produce local farmers raise into their kitchen and pair it with Gulf seafood and Louisiana beef.

The result is a restaurant that serves lots of typical Cajun dishes like charbroiled oysters, fried alligator, shrimp and grits, fried and broiled seafood and stuffed pork chops as well as steaks. What's different is the ingredients are all dead fresh, never frozen, the vegetables come from local gardens and absolutely everything, right down to the salad dressings and french fries are house made. "We don't ever own a can opener," says McCown.

The fried alligator was a revelation. Normally chewy and often with an off taste, I've come to regard fried alligator as a touristy gimmick. Not this alligator. Clean and tender, clearly harvested from smaller gators grown in local farms, this is a Cajun delicacy to be sought out. Frying, actually is one of the house specialties. "We know people are going to eat fried food," says McCown, "so we make it as healthy as possible." The seafood is delicately fried in clean peanut oil. Each item is tossed in its own fry mix, more cornmeal on the oysters and catfish, more flour on the shrimp, which makes for significant flavor profiles from bivalve to crustacean.

On the steak side, the ribeye was perfectly rare and buttery tender. Sides like cheese grits and especially the spectacular sweet potatoes show off how simple food, treated with care and respect, responds. It's strawberry season in Louisiana, be sure to order the homemade cheesecake with fresh sweet fruit.

LA Seafood House, 1917 Ridge Road, Duson, 504-5634 is open daily for dinner.