Fish Fry Review: Crawfish Junction (2nd visit)

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This will be a quick review, as it's a follow-up visit to an earlier visit to The Crawfish Junction.

What a difference a few months can make - while the first visit to The Crawfish Junction was absolutely superb, this visit left much to be desired, in every single regard. I hope this was just an anomaly, because had this been my first visit, The Crawfish would've likely ranked near the very bottom of our fish fry list. While this most recent visit wasn't as stellar as the first, we're not going to write-off TCJ... let's chalk it up to April Fool's day?

It goes to prove that every Friday offers a unique experience. Diners and readers take note - it's obvious that fish is a finicky and fickle subject, so note that it may not be uncommon for your individual experiences to (and most likely will) differ from those of mine.

We strolled in to the Crawfish at around 7:30pm this past Friday and were greeted with a 45-minute waiting list. The bar area was absolutely packed, and service was suffering - it took at least 15 minutes for one of the bartenders to pour three drinks: 2 beers and one bloody mary. And, despite our desperate pleas for "non-frozen" beer glasses, we were stuck with ice-cold glasses. Strike 1.

I should also note that The Crawfish has a fairly limited tap selection - two varieties of New Belgium brewery, three varieties from that scammy brewery from Lake Mills, and a single Spotted Cow tap. I went with a Ranger IPA; Dan went with a brew from the scammy brewery.

I'd like to expand a bit on the ice-cold glass thing; the reason for an ice cold glass is to help "improve" the flavor of lower-quality beers. You can test it yourself... take a typical light beer and let it sit at room temperature. Take a sip. Then, take that same room-temperature beer and pour a little into an ice cold glass. Take a sip. The flavor should "improve."

The problem is: the flavor doesn't really improve. It's simply masked by the ice cold temperature. The cold temperature covers many of the nuances and unique flavors, scents, and other sensory treats that the brewmaster has incorporated (or left out, in the case of lower quality brews).

So, when a bar features some interesting tap offerings (like New Glarus, New Belgium, and other micro brews), and they go through the trouble of serving those special beers in the appropriate glassware (like TCJ does - they have the tulip style glasses for Fat Tire, for example), why on earth do they dampen the experience by deep-freezing the glassware?? It would be like showing up to a first date in a Ferrari that's covered in mud, with an interior that smells like old gym socks.

Adding insult to injury, the bartenders from this particular evening weren't big on personality, either. So, when you combine the gruff service, the incorrect serving temperature, and the long wait for a pour, it results in a strike. Sorry.

We stood around the bar area for a bit, and were pleasantly surprised to learn that our table was ready a bit early. Unfortunately for us, the table was located in the less desirable side of the establishment, in an upstairs-and-apparently-an-afterthought portion of the restaurant, where the lights are too bright, the area too small, the walls completely bare, and there's a generally unpleasant feeling/vibe. It seems like it should be a storage area rather than a dining area (and probably is, most of the time).

Making matters worse were three factors:

1) There was only one waitress available to service the entire room, which had 9 tables, all of which were full. We sat for at least 20 minutes before being greeted and asked about drink refills or appetizers. When we did get a chance to order, it took another 10+ minutes for anything to arrive, and once again, our beer glasses were served at a rigamortis-inducing cold temperature.

2) The bus-girl who was responsible for cleaning the tables had apparently created an incredibly strong batch of bleach-based table cleaner. With every spray of her cleaning bottle, I swore we were inhaling mustard gas. The stench of bleach was overpowering; people were complaining to the manager about the odor, yet the girl was oblivious to it... she kept liberally spraying the nostril-melting concoction as if it was nothing.

3) By the time we were able to order, we learned that they were completely out of baked fish, baked potatoes, shrimp, walleye, and something else (I forget what it was). No biggie on the shrimp, but the walleye, baked, and potato outages were a major downer.

Let's combine all of those issues for Strike 2.

We placed our food order, which consisted of cheese curds, a spinach artichoke dip (with crawfish tails), broasted cod, and a combo platter of fried lake perch and fried bluegills.

The appetizers arrived first - I had received a tip that the cheese curds were "unreal" but was sadly disappointed, as they were obviously straight from the Sysco catalog. Nothing to write home about, although they were nicely fried.

The artichoke and crawfish dip was downright awful. The tri-colored chips were slightly stale; the artichoke dip was flavorless and gluey, and the crawfish tails were absolutely dreadful - they had the consistency of soggy rubber boots (despite being breaded and deep fried), and had the grossest, fishiest, most nauseating taste I've ever experienced. It was as if they had cooked-up a big batch of them at around 4:00pm and then left them sit until someone ordered some. In all fairness, I've never had crawfish before, but if crawfish is supposed to have the flavor and consistency of a well-used rubber band, I won't be likely to order them again.

The fish plates arrived after another 15-20 minute wait. I immediately dug-in to my combo basket, and immediately wanted to cry. My 8 smallish pieces of fish (4 each of the lake perch and bluegill) had suffered the same fate as those disgusting little crawfish - they were rubbery and lifeless. I'm convinced that they were cooked well ahead of time and left in a warming bin until they were thrown into my basket. They weren't scaldingly hot by any means, the coating was soggy, and as mentioned, the fish was rubbery.

cj_fish.jpg

I've never had such limp, lifeless, and chewy fried fish. Granted, the breading still had an excellent flavor, but nothing tasted (or felt) as if it had just come from the fryer. It was such a disappointment.... sort of like when you're starving from a full day's worth of hectic travel (or work) and decide to visit McDonald's at 9:00pm because all you're looking forward to is a steaming-hot, fresh and crispy order of those infamous fries, but get slapped with the ones that have been sitting in the warming bin since around 6:45pm...

The broasted cod, which was so superb at our last visit, was just as disappointing. Strike 3.

So, with this particular visit, The Crawfish Junction = FAIL

Service = 1.25 stars (1 waitress for 9 tables? Seriously? 20+ minutes for first orders?)
Food = 1 star (rubbery, lifeless, and generally bad this time around)
Value = 1 star (seemed as if we got the left-over left-overs)
MISC = 1 star (terrible seating area, bleach stench, no ambiance, bad bar service)


I still want to like The Crawfish Junction because I like most of the establishment; I like their full menu, and the previous visit was so good... I have to (or really want to) believe that this was an "off night" for TCJ... we'll visit again with the hope that things take a drastic turn for the better next time. Otherwise, I'm afraid it'll be game over for TCJ recommendations.

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This page contains a single entry by Steve published on April 2, 2011 10:57 PM.

Dog transport + a quick revisit was the previous entry in this blog.

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