Finding fresh seafood is no easy feat in the desert. I’m known for my tendency to avoid seafood if I’m not sure of the source. How fresh can it be if you had to ship it in from somewhere else? High-end restaurants may be able to fly in same-day catches, but most places in the Valley lack that luxury. Even so, a Louisiana Cajun-style chain has earned a reputation for their spicy Southern-comfort seafood.
Pappadeux’s, located at Peoria and the I-17, is situated in a large building with an open layout. At night, lights illuminate a green courtyard out front with a fountain. Entering into the building brings about a change in scenery. Stuffed fish hang on the walls with kitschy pictures over red tables and chairs. Overall the dining area has a comfortable, casual atmosphere.
On an early Sunday afternoon, the restaurant was uncrowded, but grew busier as time passed. With the quality of service and food, I would assume it’s usually more crowded.
Our waitress was friendly and accommodated the waves of our party arriving separately. She has mastered her timing, never interrupting the flow of conversation or dining, yet always available when needed. Her knowledge of the menu was extensive. When I asked a more complicated question, she was willing and eager to ask the chef.
The comfortable atmosphere in combination with the friendly, well-timed service made the amazing food that much more enjoyable.
We started simple with some fried calamari and fried alligator, a dish I didn’t think we could get in Arizona. Both were fried to crispy perfection without an excess of grease. The meat inside was tender and juicy, a delicate balance between textures that I’ve never seemed to manage when frying my own food.
These choices may seem adventurous, but alligator tastes similar to any other white meat. Calamari is a bit chewy by nature, so if you dislike chewy textures I would avoid this item. Fortunately, our calamari was cooked without making the meat rubbery and hard to eat.
Both meats were served with sauces, a garlic aoli for the calamari and a spicy sauce for the alligator. While the sauces added an extra punch, the spices in the breading provided enough flavor to keep me from smothering the meat in sauce.
The menu has a diverse selection of entrees from catfish to lobster. Keep in mind, if you don’t care for seafood, your options are limited. It’s called Pappadeaux’s Seafood Kitchen, so if you’re not there for the fish, why are you even there?
I can honestly say I’ve never had fish this good in the Valley. When I ate seafood in Maine, the key was to rely on pure, natural flavors; all you needed was a little butter. Pappadeux’s, on the other hand, utilizes the freshness of the fish combined with a powerful array of herbs and spices.
1. Glazed Cedar Plank Salmon
This was the dish that caught everyone’s eye. It’s a beautiful pink cut of salmon served on a wooden block of cedar. This is a common way to cook fish that imbues the fish with a smoky flavor. The asparagus was crisp, not overcooked or mushy whatsoever. The salmon was a beautiful amber color from the mustard glaze. Often when salmon is overcooked, you end up with a distinct fishy taste. This fish was fork-tender and cooked to perfection with a balance between the marinade and its natural flavor.
2. Catfish with Red Beans and Rice
This is a classic New Orleans dish, so I was hoping for some originality. Instead, I got a rather plainly presented dish of spiced, fried catfish with beans and rice. It wasn’t as spicy as I was hoping, but it’s obvious the kitchen has mastered the art the fish fry. The bland presentation left much to be desired, but the flavor is perfect for the picky eater. If you were looking for your favorite Louisiana meal, you’ll get what you ordered. This dish is a classic for a reason, but don’t expect a revelation.
3. Grilled Costa Rican Mahi
This was my personal favorite and without competition, the best fish I’ve ever had. The fish was perfectly cooked, warm, buttery, and moist. Hot peppers added a bit of an extra kick, but light enough not to disrupt the flavor of the fish. I wouldn’t even put lemon on it. It cut through without difficulty, but it didn’t fall apart. I immensely enjoyed the pieces of crab meat, which added a firmer texture to the dish. The fish was served in neatly atop some creamy grits and buttery squash. I could eat this every day for the rest of my life
1. Andes Mint Cheesecake
If you’re like me, the best part about Olive Garden was the Andes mints at the end of the meal. Pappadeux’s has taken this a step further, making these minty treats into a rich, creamy cheesecake. The color is not a bright green, which I would have considered off-putting. The chocolate cookie crust helped cut through the mint, preventing a “one-note” flavor. I enjoyed the cool mint taste after a meal laden with spice. Plus, who doesn’t like a dessert made out of their favorite candy?
2. Praline Bread Pudding Souffle
This souffle embodies the soul of the South. Bourbon and praline are two classic Southern flavors. Together they create a savory-sweet twist on an underrated dessert. The souffle, served in a ramekin, stays hot, but gets a little mushy toward the bottom. The crunch on top should keep .p .
3. Banana Pudding
The banana pudding would not be my first choice when offered the other options on the menu. They did their best to play with new additions to a plain dessert. Whole slices of banana and vanilla wafers add extra texture and a more natural flavor than banana extract.
Pappadeux’s was a delightful meal full of flavorful spices and fresh seafood, a true gem in a this dry, hot desert. I would recommend this bright restaurant for family dinners and gatherings. It may be suitable for a fun date with good food, but it’s a down-home, comfortable atmosphere. You can impress with the food, but not the atmosphere. You are paying for fresh seafood, so larger parties can end up with a hefty bill.
To find out more about Pappadeux’s, check out their website
Price: $30 and under per person