Tonight Sandra and I dinner at J Don’s for the first time since they’d opened a couple of years ago. She was ready for some boiled crawfish. The season is just starting and it’s been a while since we’ve had some so we decided to come here since every other place that serves boiled seafood has been, somewhat, underwhelming. Since this was our first visit to J Don’s I decided to pass on the boiled crawfish and try something that would give me a broad sense of how good the food would be.
Our waitress, Melissa, was really personable and attentive though not overbearing. She took our drink orders and gave us time to look over the menu. The menu is pretty extensive, more on that later. It was early evening on a Friday during Lent and there were a total of 7 tables occupied. This gave me cause for concern; either the food isn’t very good or the location is killing them. J Don’s does have a Wednesday night all-you-can-eat boiled and fried seafood buffet which I’m sure packs the place no matter the food quality; but a Friday night during Lent in south Louisiana during crawfish season? C’mon man!
Anyway, Melissa returned with our drinks and we were ready to order. Sandra had 2# of boiled crawfish and 1/2# shrimp and I decided upon the seafood sampler appetizer for my meal. While we talked waiting for our order, I took the opportunity to watch the plates going to some of the other tables. A few had boiled seafood, but what caught my attention was the beautiful po-boys that were coming out of the kitchen. They were huge and looked like something out of a food magazine. Hope is restored.
Our food arrived, rather Sandra’s food arrived, about 10 minutes after we ordered; Strike 1: Our food didn’t come out together and, as far as I’m concerned, this is a big restaurant no-no. Sandra’s crawfish and shrimp were very nice medium/large and were well seasoned and flavorful, not overseasoned like so many of the other places around this area. Just a side note for all you boiled seafood lovers out there: HUGE AMOUNTS OF CAYENNE AND SALT DO NOT MAKE GOOD BOILED SEAFOOD! And, for the record, a friend and past co-worker does the best boiled crawfish I’ve ever had, Mr Chris Guarisco. Props to ya bro!
My plate came out exactly 8 minutes later; thankfully I wasn’t starving at the time or I’d been a little angry. To add to the disappointment the “seafood sampler” at $15 was sparse to say the least and that’s being polite. Strike 2: The plate had 2 small strips of fried catfish, a little undercooked; 2 “jumbo” fried shrimp; 2 stuffed shrimp, pre-made frozen and average at best with very little crabmeat; 2 crawfish kickers, not bad and not made in-house; 2 seafood jalapeno poppers, another frozen pre-made no-prep item: Strike 3. Now I completely understand food and labor costs but at $15 everything on that plate should have been made in-house by a cook or chef. Just imagine how disappointed I’d have been if I’d ordered the $27 seafood platter. At this point I’m thinking that I really should have gotten the boiled crawfish or a po-boy.
I realized a long time ago that big menu’s for restaurants can be very challenging to pull off with any degree of continuity or consistency. One of the ways that restauranteurs try to overcome this is by utilizing pre-made frozen products which can be bought from any of the large restaurant food suppliers. I’ve been to enough food shows in my life to know that there are a lot of these that are really very good and of high quality. The problem with this is those are just about as expensive as making them fresh in-house, so cheaper ones are used whenever possible. So in an effort to cut costs on food and labor food quality is sacrificed and, in my opinion, should be taken off the menu. I have always subscribed to the idea that a smaller menu executed at a high level is much more profitable with a lot fewer headaches than a huge menu which is impossible to execute without a large kitchen staff or the use of average-at-best pre-made frozen products. J Don’s seem to be caught in the trap of the latter scenario.
Because this was our first visit, I give J Don’s a grade of B+ after taking into account everything of our over-all dining experience. The restaurant’s decor and set-up was exactly what you’d expect at a seafood restaurant here in south Louisiana and the staff were friendly and courteous. Melissa, our waitress, obviously enjoys her job and where she works taking a genuine interest in talking to me about my thoughts and suggestions on a restaurant she takes pride in. If I were going to take the leap of doing my place I would steal her from J Don’s for sure and try to find 10 more just like her. Although I observed some great looking food in the dining room, unfortunately I didn’t get the right thing that would have sent me to foodie heaven. That being the case we will definitely do round 2 soon just to, if nothing else, see if those po-boys are even close to being as good as they looked and I hope they are.