Appetizers

Dishing the news about the Sacramento area food scene

First Impressions: Crawdad’s River Cantina

03/14/2014 12:54 PM

03/20/2014 8:16 PM

First Impressions visits dining spots in the region that are new or have undergone recent transitions. Have a candidate for First Impressions? Email us at taste@sacbee.com.

The party’s back on the Sacramento River, but this time with a new set of owners. Crawdad’s River Cantina, a longtime staple of outdoor eating and drinking along the Garden Highway, has reopened with a new team headed by Adam Pechal (formerly of Tuli Bistro/Restaurant Thir13en) and Trevor Shults of PourHouse, BarWest and other central city watering holes. Pechal is joined in the kitchen by Paul Caravelli, a former Chicago-area chef who appeared with Pechal on ABC’s “The Taste.”

While Crawdad’s has previously closed during winter, the two plan on keeping the restaurant open year round and becoming more of a dining destination. This project marks the first collaboration between Shults and Pechal, with another on the way soon. Pechal is taking over the food program at Shults’ PourHouse and mulling more partnerships.

Here’s what you can expect at Crawdad’s 2.0, as the outdoor dining season heats up in spring:

Menu

Comfort foods with a few Cajun twists. Pechal has designed a menu that includes some of his signature dishes from Tuli and Thir13en, including his Capitol Burger with “Pechal’s pickles” and served on a Village Bakery bun. Buffalo wings, fried calamari and other familiar bar are for the snacking. But Pechal seeks to up Crawdad’s food game with such offerings as mai tai chicken cutlets in a pineapple rum sauce, tempura fried ahi tuna and a rib-eye steak with Creole butter.

Given the “Crawdad’s” moniker, the menu emphasizes more Cajun and Creole touches, such as jambalaya, crawfish gumbo and fish ’n’ chips paired with a Cajun-style remoulade.

Ambiance

BarWest meets a houseboat. Crawdad’s fashions itself as a riverfront party palace with its bustling bar, boats parked along the dock and outdoor patio for unwinding after work or on weekends under the sun. Look for the denizens of BarWest and PourHouse to follow Shults and company to Crawdad’s for some outdoor revelry that’s outside the usual midtown grid.

The current version of Crawdad’s has been freshened up with a new paint job, new furnishings and other appointments that give it a clean, airy feel. A large gator that once hung over the entrance has been moved to a prime spot in the main dining room. Long couches line the outdoor patio for extra leisure.

Drinks

Yes, there are many, including a full bar program with an emphasis on potent outdoor sippers. Elliott Ames oversees a bar program that includes many pre-batched ingredients for making fresh and full-flavored cocktails fairly quickly. The mojito is based on a raw cane simple syrup with a mint infusion, and a menu of tiki-style drinks feature various housemade mixers and 2.5 ounces of alcohol in some cases.

Service

Many servers in black shorts and tank tops are on hand to take food and drink orders, whether outside on the patio or inside the dining space. For those who want to sit on the patio, yet crave the closest possible proximity for calling drinks to the bartenders, an outside counter runs parallel to the bar. Thirsty folks can place orders through a series of open windows.

First impression

Is it just a matter of time before someone takes a belly flop into the river? Given the combination of hearty food and drink, and a space reinvigorated with new ownership that specializes in good times, Crawdad’s could re-establish itself as the Sacramento River’s premiere party spot.

Try it if:

You miss Pechal’s Capitol Burger, or fancy an uptempo place to sip on cocktails that come with mini umbrellas.

Forget it if:

You are agoraphobic and sunburn easily.

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Appetizers brings you the latest restaurant happenings, interesting tidbits on good food and events, and -- of course -- great specials and deals.

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