Smile Politely

Crane Alley’s 8th Annual Crawfish Boil

Crane Alley had a huge amount of fresh crawfish shipped overnight from Louisiana for its 8th Annual Crawfish Boil. My husband and I were fortunate enough to get our tickets before they sold out ($20 each). This is the first year it sold out before the day of the event. Crane Alley sold a whopping 300 tickets this year! We arrived and walked inside, excitedly anticipating our Southern feast.

We were greeted with a bright smile from the hostess who took our tickets and names for a table. The bar was our next stop. I couldn’t imagine going back outside without a cold drink in my hand. The restaurant was serving up the normal drink menu as well as a specialty drink: tall frosty hurricanes.The air conditioner was a welcome relief from the heat and humidity outside, but we only enjoyed it for a few minutes before heading back around to the alley to join the long line of people waiting for the main event.

The atmosphere was full of jovial energy and had a fun festive air. The staff was noticeably hot due to the 90 degree temperatures, but they all seemed to be having great time, laughing with customers and one another. As the diners waited, they chatted companionably with one another while the line inched slowly forward. The ice cold beverages we purchased before braving the heat really kept us cool, along with the heavenly breeze swirling around the alley. The line was getting shorter and shorter, and I was getting more and more excited to see how they were serving up this crawfish feast. We finally reached the front of the line and just my luck, they were pouring out a fresh batch of bright red crawfish for us to behold. The savory smells wafted up my nose as the perfumed cloud of steam escaped all around us.

Crane Alley boiled the crawfish and served Old-Time Meat and Deli’s hand-made andouille sausage, as well as potatoes, sliced onions, green peppers and corn on the cob. The food was served on a long picnic table with silverware on the side. We grabbed our red and white checkered boats and hurried back inside to find a seat and dig in.

The interior of Crane Alley, though nice and cool, is very dark, so we decided to sit on the front patio to take advantage of the beautiful sunlight and lovely breeze. As we settled in at our table, the amiable waiter welcomed us with large cups of ice water and napkins. Now, It was finally time for us to partake in what we’d been waiting for, for weeks.

It was hard, but I decided to start with some of the house-made andouille sausage from Old-Time Meat and Deli. Andouille sausage is a staple of Louisiana Creole cuisine, it’s a smoked sausage made using pork, onions, peppers, garlic, wine, and seasonings. I could tell by the look and texture of the sausage that it was made by hand. The meat was juicy and the seasonings were salty and packed a punch of spiciness. The ratio of fat to meat was spot on. (Sausage-grade ground pork generally contains about 25 to 30 percent fat). The tender potatoes, onions and green peppers took on the spicy flavor of the savory broth. The juicy yellow corn was supple and sweet, the shiny kernels were cooked to perfection and burst in my mouth as I devoured them. The star of the meal was of course the crawfish. They were perfectly cooked and the juicy meat was buttery, and had taken on the spiciness of the sausage. We finished our first servings in record time and promptly made our way back to the line. The event is all you can eat and we certainly did just that. Together we polished off 12 cardboard boats of deliciousness and almost went back for another.

Before we left, I sat back comfortably in my chair and thought over the last few hours. My belly was contentedly full of scrumptious crawfish and sausage, there was the faint sound of zydeco music in the air drifting from the Iron Post’s live music, as well as a great deal of heat and humidity. For a brief moment I closed my eyes, and it was like I was back in New Orleans; all I was missing was the salty coastal air blowing on my face. I had such an enjoyable, entertaining experience at Crane Alley’s Annual Crawfish Boil. I’m definitely putting it on my calendar of events for next year!

Crane Alley is located at 115 W. Main St., Urbana, IL. 61801 and is open daily,11 a.m.–2 a.m.

All photos by Rebecca Wells. 

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