Crazy Creole Cafe is the result of a love story that could only have been made in Long Beach: a Creole guy who learned to cook from his grandma and a Cambodian refugee (whose escape from slavery warrants its own tale) get married and decide to open a family restaurant. But that's just the background.
The real draw is that despite a crappy location on a sad stretch of Long Beach Boulevard and zero signage (thanks “urban blight” task force!), locals know that for the last two years, this is the city's most reliable home for fresh crawfish, vats of crab-lovers gumbo and every other tried-and-true New Orleans-style dish you can imagine.
The restaurant would have been open sooner if Guy DuPlantier III and his wife Nith hadn't wasted a few years trying to keep their head above water with a Crazy Creole food truck, which roved around L.A. trying to build a mobile market for fresh jambalaya, crawfish etouffe and po' boy sandwiches.
Unfortunately, the couple is much better at channeling the flavors of Louisiana than they are at thrusting themselves into the vortex of self-promotion and social media that is required of a new truck these days, and the couple lost their house in the venture. Instead of giving up, though, they pulled together whatever money they could muster for another go – a brick-and-mortar cafe in Cajun-deficient Long Beach.
You'll learn all this history from Nith, who is friendly and chatty despite juggling duties as cashier, chef, manager and more (Guy makes magic stirring vats of secret stews behind the scenes). Her conversation will keep you company while your catfish is getting fried, your pound of crawfish is being boiled or your Jack Daniels-soaked bread pudding is getting warmed. Because Creole food is not fast food and, even if the place is empty, there will always be a wait for something.
Don't be alarmed by the prices, either. Creole food ain't cheap (and if it is, run). Unlike places that use frozen seafood in order to offer Cajun-style boils year-round (see: everywhere in Little Saigon with “crab” in the name), the DuPlantier's insist on only using the fresh stuff, meaning, yes, that buttery crawfish etouffe plate with two sides will cost you $17 and a hearty soft-shell crab po'boy with no side is $18. It also means that when crawfish and crab season is over, it'll be stricken from the menu until next year.
Even if something's out, there's always plenty of other Southern-style favorites to choose from. In fact, Crazy Creole Cafe might be the only place around with alligator meat on the menu (get it fried in a basket with fries). It's also definitely the only spot in town that cooks up five kinds of gumbo a week (YaYa has chicken and sausage, Gumbo Zab is a Holy Thursday staple, okra gumbo is only on the weekends and crab gumbo has four different kinds of crab in it for a one-size-only $39 feast).
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Plus, if you want to get your hands dirty on a legit seafood boil during your lunch break, there's a laundry list of available ocean creatures that they will gladly toss (along with corn, potatoes and sausage) in either the traditional Cajun-style sauce or Nith's proprietary “Asian Cajun” seasonings.
Sal's Gumbo Shack is good for North Town, but their New Orleans hero worship and limited menu doesn't have anything on Crazy Creole Cafe's dedication to breadth and authenticity. There's even a mini corner store by the register here stocked with jars of Blue Plate mayo, tins of Community Coffee, bottles of hot sauce and bags of seasoning in case you're visits to Guy and Nith are becoming too frequent and you want to try your hand at a seafood boil of your own.
900 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach; 562-507-5494; crazy-creole-cafe.com