Saltwater Grill, reviewed in this week's issue, is one of the rare restaurants in the city where you can order alligator with a straight face.
Our city is surrounded by alligator habitat, and you don't need to paddle your pirogue or rented canoe very far in the Jean Lafitte national park on the West Bank before spotting one staring back from the green water.
But when alligator turns up on a menu, it's usually a joke. It's usually fried and served with a plastic container of honey mustard or something similarly strong and cloaking. So it usually tastes a lot like fried chicken bits dunked in honey mustard. The intent seems to be to have something on the menu to fuel declarations like this:
"I went down to New Orleans for a (pick one: convention/vacation/federal deposition) and had alligator at this restaurant. Alligator! Those New Orleans people eat alligator!"
But alligator seems under-appreciated here, and I think it's because so often it shows up as the fried variety described above. At Saltwater Grill, though, the alligator burger (pictured above) tastes very much more like alligator than anything else. The meat is actually a ground patty cut with pork and pork fat, so it's an alligator sausage, but the flavor is distinctively reptile. The texture is just a little bit springy, the taste a little bit sour.
I like the alligator dishes that vendors bring to Jazz Fest, like the alligator pie, the alligator sauce piquant and even the fried alligator with fried jalapenos (because it tastes more like alligator than batter). And Cochon, that temple of dressed-up Cajun country cooking, has an appetizer of fried alligator that is much better than most, especially with its delicious chili garlic sauce.
The Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board is trying to encourage more alligator use, and the industry group had a contest for culinary students over the summer called the Alligator Soiree which revealed some interesting recipes for alligator.
But I just don't seem to find much going on with alligator in local restaurants unless it involves a heavy batter and a deep fry.
If you've seen some other good alligator dishes in local restaurants, please share in a post below.