Fried Food Frenzy
Along Lake Maurepas
lauren carroll photograph
If you take a map of Louisiana and draw a triangle using Baton Rouge, Covington, and New Orleans as the vertices, Lake Maurepas will be at the center. Bounded by wildlife management areas and Tickfaw State Park, the Lake Maurepas area provides a nearby nature getaway for residents of southeast Louisiana. The banks of the lake are also home to two of the best fried seafood joints in the state, Charlie’s Restaurant and Middendorf’s.
Charlie’s is located on the northwest side of Lake Maurepas, in the Livingston Parish town of Springfield. It gets packed right away from the early-dining crowd, but there is a large bar adjoining the entry room to ease the pain of waiting in line. We showed up on a Friday during Lent, so the place was teeming with hordes of hungry patrons. We sat down at the bar and read the giant menu.
Charlie’s is a fried seafood mecca: Of the 20 appetizers on the menu, only four are not fried. In anticipation of an imminent fried feeding frenzy, I opted for the boiled shrimp appetizer. The shrimp were large and fresh and the boil was well-seasoned. It was large for an appetizer portion but I took it down quickly. Now that my palate was cleansed with something not deep-fried, I was ready to get down to serious business.
We were seated in the main restaurant, which is an open 30-by-50 or so foot room filled with tables heaped with giant seafood platters. Shortly thereafter we were presented with a seafood platter, a soft-shell crab dinner and the special “seafood dip.” The dip is basically a cheese sauce with crabmeat and crawfish in it that is ladled on many of the dishes at Charlie’s, served with fried pita chips. It is extremely rich, and I would recommend dipping everything liberally into it. The “Seafood Platter No. 1” contains catfish, shrimp and oysters. I particularly like the batter and fry job at Charlie’s; it includes plenty of cornmeal for the extra crunch. Oysters strongly benefit from the crispiness, and they were among the best offerings we sampled. The seafood was fresh and the freshly cut sweet potato fries were also delicious. The star of the show, however, was the soft-shell crab. The extra-crunchy batter works very well with soft-shell crab, as crispiness complements the soft textures beneath the mushy shell.
In conclusion, Charlie’s is the perfect cap to a day trip to Tickfaw State Park. Just be sure to walk every nature trail to work up an appetite, as the platters are enormous.
Information, 30123 Louisiana 22, Springfield, (225) 294-0100.
The eastern side of Lake Maurepas also boasts a famous fried seafood joint, Middendorf’s. Located on the Pass Manchac waterway that connects Lake Maurepas to Lake Pontchartrain, Middendorf’s will celebrate its 80th birthday this summer. In the last few decades the restaurant has grown substantially and is now a sizeable waterfront compound featuring indoor and outdoor dining areas and bars. We got there early for lunch at 11 a.m., but by 11:30 the place was packed. The atmosphere is casual and family-friendly; there’s even a sand pit for kids beside the rear deck.
The signature dish, very thinly sliced fried catfish, originates from the original owner. Josie Middendorf’s 80-year-old recipe produces the best fried fish I have ever had, and as a Cajun from southwest Louisiana I have certainly had my share. The catfish is sliced so thin that it curls in the fryer like a potato chip. It’s light, flaky and delicious. The batter is markedly less crunchy than the cornmeal-heavy crust at Charlie’s, but it is perfectly suited to catfish. The lighter, softer-textured batter also works well for shrimp, which were fresh and delicious.
Chef Horst Pfeifer and his wife, Karen, who had previous operated the upscale and elegant Bella Luna restaurant in New Orleans, made a dramatic change in locations and menus by taking over Middendorf’s after their New Orleans restaurant was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
Middendorf’s is only 45 minutes from downtown New Orleans and much closer to Metairie and the Northshore. If you’re in the mood to get out of town for an afternoon or evening and eat some of the best catfish you will ever have, Middendorf’s lives up to the hype and is worth the drive.
Information, 30160 Hwy. 51, Akers,