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Several years ago former CBS News business editor Ray Brady came to south Louisiana at our invitation to speak at our business expo. After we presented several dining options for his one night in Acadiana, he quickly opted for Hawk's Restaurant in Robert's Cove. We picked him up at The Hilton and headed west on I-10, lively conversation all the way. But he grew more quiet as we exited the interstate at Rayne, headed down Highway 98, turned onto a paved country road and finally found a gravel drive leading through some trees to the restaurant. In the dark. "If I was still in New York," he admitted, "I'd be getting nervous about now."
Hawk's advertises itself as "located in the middle of nowhere." After eating there again recently, I would add "and worth the drive." Writers from The New York Times, USA Today and myriad travel magazines have made the trek and some dubbed Hawk's the best crawfish restaurant in the world. There are many great ones and we all have our favorites, but Hawk's is truly unique.
The restaurant's stock in trade is its thorough purging process. Founder Hawk Arceneaux started the restaurant in 1983 to get rid of the excess inventory of mudbugs from his ponds that year, and wanted to try a method of crawfish purging developed by researchers at Texas A&M University. His son Anthony, who took over the restaurant full time this year after his father retired, remembers the first trip to College Station.
"They were using the same water that came from the crawfish ponds so we decided to try well water and found that the crawfish were much cleaner," he recalls. The father-son team initially used cement holding ponds but later developed an above-ground system which is less labor intensive. Now the crawfish are placed in giant baskets ' much like the deep-fry baskets you see in fast food restaurants ' which are hinged along huge water troughs located in a building near the restaurant. Fresh well water is circulated 24/7 and expelled into crawfish ponds. The process takes 48-hours and the system can handle up to 3,000 pounds.
"The biggest myth in south Louisiana is to use salt to purge crawfish," Anthony says, noting that fresh water and time are what's needed to clean the tail inside and out as well as the mud and debris from the gills. By the end of the process, a batch of crawfish can lose as much as 9 percent of its weight and about 7 percent of the volume.
Anthony travels 220 miles each day to find the large, select crawfish that are another Hawk's trademark. "I have access to more than 50 crawfishermen who hand-select about four sacks out of every 100 for me," he says. He pays twice market value for the big bugs and sorts them again after purging. The small ones go back to the pond.
Now that Hawk has retired, Anthony and his wife Jennifer have been entrusted with everything but the etouffee, which his 73-year-old mother Denise still prepares daily from a closely guarded secret family recipe. The restaurant will be open Wednesday through Saturday evenings through the first week of June. Now even I can find it using the map on their Web site at www.hawkscrawfish.com.
Another Jewel Assignment for Vivian Alexander
First it was George Rodrigue's Blue Dog for Absolut. Now Smirnoff has tapped Vivian Alexander for a new ad campaign for its premium vodka, Red. Ad agency J. Walter Thompson hired Alex Caldwell and company to produce two of their Faberge-inspired eggs and the big challenge was to find the enamel paint required to exactly match Smirnoff's trademark color. "It required a custom blend," he says. Watch for the ads in national magazines and on television in July.