Brother's Smother 

My Brother's Crawfish Is Probably Better than Your Brother's

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We had the dazed look of frenzied animals. Bits of Texas blue crab were scattered about the table, and our lips were rimmed red from spice. Our fingers were sticky with crab juice and boil broth. We looked at each other. I will admit some shame, but at least we'd chosen a table in the unpopulated part of the bar. They couldn't have heard us sucking crab legs over the bumping hiphop, could they? A roll of paper towels had been left at our table. The server must have recognized the glint in our eyes as we ordered. It was a glint that said things were about to get primal.

I doubt my wife Kitty and I are the first dining companions to lay waste to a crab boil at My Brother's Crawfish, and considering how good it was, I doubt we'll be the last. There's been steady buzz concerning the small Creole-style eatery, located in the crook of a shopping plaza off SE 82nd, but I've found few people who've made the trek.

Those who do will likely be surprised such an understated restaurant has caused so much fuss. Then, they'll look at the menu: live crawfish boil with andouille sausage, étouffée, jambalaya, blackened redfish, and gumbo. It reads like a rundown of Gulf Coast delicacies. There's even a small selection from a Louisiana microbrewer.

But the proof is in the roux. The étouffée roux is thick, light brown, and creamy. In French the term étouffer means "to smother" and Brother's roux smothers tender little bursts of crawfish meat just so. The dish has what chili lovers refer to as "back heat," which is the experience of chili heat on the back of the palate, toward the throat. This back heat lengthens the experience of the dish so every mouthful seems to hang on, like a Southern gentleman lingering on his belle's veranda. Popping a cube of bright, cold tomato into the mix is sigh inducing.

The seafood gumbo is equally good, but here's a revelation: Many menu items can be ordered as "sides," essentially à la cart, for half the price of what they'd cost as an entrée. The gumbo side, at $5.99, was a fine amount. Packed with okra and the "holy trinity" (onions, celery, bell peppers), even the smaller portion of Brother's gumbo is stacked with seafood, including a large shrimp (head on so you can suck out the brains), an oyster, and a sweet little mussel.

I wasn't excited by the fried catfish or blackened redfish. The catfish was too fatty, tasting much like the brackish waters where it most likely lived before reaching my plate. This was also the case for the redfish, though the blackening was done perfectly.

Whatever you order, indulge in the glossy, sweet cornbread. It has the consistency of cake with a sweetness that complements the savory of the spicy entrée.

Keep in mind, Brother's seafood is seasonal and imported. Now's the time for that Blue Crab boil, while crawfish is out of season until sometime in October. The good news is there will always be chances to try something new.

My Brother's Crawfish may not win awards for restaurant design, and the service can be spotty, at best. But these things are quickly forgotten when you reach the bright orange roe beneath a burnished crab shell. The Creole flavors coming out of Brother's tight, strip-mall kitchen make it damn easy to lose yourself to your inner animal. I guar-aun-tee.

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