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Dining

Succulent Carnage

You’ll get messy, but you’ll never forget a meal at Hot n’ Juicy Crawfish

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Crawfish with beer: a perfect pair at Hot n’ Juicy Crawfish.
Photo: Beverly Poppe
Grace Bascos

Hot n’ Juicy Crawfish. Just the name of the joint made me want to go in the first time I saw it. Its Spring Mountain location at first made me wonder if it was an Asian concept, but I was elated to learn that the New Orleans tradition of the crawfish boil had made the trip to Vegas.

For those uninitiated in how to properly eat the little buggers, a quick primer (and I’ll try not to be too graphic): Twist the head off from the tail. Remove the first segment of shell off the tail end (the end that used to be attached to the head) to expose a bit of the meat. Place the exposed flesh between your teeth, pinch the tail and pull gently; the tail should slip right out, leaving nothing but shell behind.

Now, this is the part that, for some reason or another, might not sit well with some. The head that you ripped off that little body? Suck the juice out of the head. That’s right. Suck it. This act is all about savoring the flavor that is in there, like the tomalley in a lobster.

Based on those instructions, Hot n’ Juicy crawfish might not exactly be a first-date meal—that is, unless you want to see how well your date handles wearing a plastic bib or eating with his or her hands. The restaurant is definitely no muss, no fuss—plastic sheets lining the tables, rolls of paper towels waiting at the ready for when you have crawfish juices running down your arm and chin. Mardi Gras décor hangs throughout, along with Polaroids of past customers on the exposed brick wall. Flat-screen TVs around the room make it a great spot for watching the game, having a few beers and tearing into some mudbugs.

Appetizers are of the deep-fried variety, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Baskets of shrimp, catfish and chicken wings come with Cajun-spiced french fries. Right now is prime soft-shell crab season (any month without an “R” in it, so they say), as this is when the blue crabs molt, losing their hard, protective shells, exposing them to be eaten whole. I opted for an order of those, which are served battered and crisp along with tartar and cocktail sauces.

The shellfish options, besides crawfish, include Dungeness and blue crabs, shrimp and snow and king crab legs, and all are sold at market price. They’re boiled before being tossed in your choice of seasonings and at your requested heat level. Temperature options range from mild to medium to spicy to extra spicy.

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Hot n’ Juicy Crawfish
4810 Spring Mountain Road, 891-8889.
Open noon-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; noon-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
Suggested dishes: crawfish by the pound, $9.99; king crab by the pound, $20.99; fried shrimp appetizers, $6.95.

Now, I’m no spice wimp, but I can be wary of spice levels in unfamiliar places. My dining companions, who work with plenty of heat themselves, talked me into the spicy. We opted for a pound coated with the Hot n’ Juicy special seasoning, which is a combination of all their other seasonings, including garlic butter, lemon pepper and Cajun flavors. They arrived in a clear plastic bag, red and steaming, steeping in what presumably makes them hot and juicy.

The Hot n’ Juicy special seasoning has bodacious, bright flavor where you can actually taste the elements of all the other seasonings coming together. The spicy is exactly what they say it is, and I made a mental note to never order the extra spicy unless I’m feeling extra masochistic. I was about four crawfish in when I started to feel the burn. It begins with the garlic, and then the heat builds in the tip of your tongue before increasing in the rest of your mouth. It’s not a searing, uncomfortable spiciness—more like a slow, pleasant pain that makes your nose run, but you want to go back for more. Which I did, again and again.

The plastic bag suddenly empty and my beer drained to tame the heat, I looked down at the pure carnage on the table, which looked as if I’d gone on a rampage, shredding apart any poor crawfish that came across my path. It’s dining at its most primitive, but most liberating.

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