Put the sticky-sweet, tomato-based sauce back in the fridge and step away from the grill, because New Orleans-style BBQ shrimp is not at all like what y’all think of when y’all think barbecue.
A New Orleans food writer with a lot of local cuisine knowledge “under her belt” once told told me the original recipe for BBQ shrimp, created at Uptown restaurant Pascal’s Manale, consisted of three ingredients; Gulf shrimp, lots and lots of pepper, and oleo (a.k.a. old-school margarine). Most of the flavor in the dish comes from the shrimp’s head and shell which remains intact while cooking, and serving for that matter, but a richer recipe evolved mainly due to a matter of etiquette. In other words, people dining at a white tablecloth restaurant had little interest in beheading and peeling their own shrimp.
Thus the New Orleans classic was born, not too different from the original and still prepared a long way from the grill. Along with pepper and real butter (ditch the oleo), the generally-agreed upon recipe includes Worcestershire sauce, butter, shallots, garlic, fresh lemon juice, Tabasco, butter and a few Cajun-Italian seasonings like cayenne, oregano, thyme, basil, and paprika. Did we mention butter?
With the rising price of foodstuffs, it was a bit challenging to find BBQ shrimp dishes falling under the $20 mark. The original at Pascal’s Manale last rang in at $28, though the Napoleon Avenue restaurant was recently bought by Dickie Brennan & Co., so that might change. Mr. B’s Bistro, another famous French Quarter spot known for the dish, charges a whopping $34 for their “barbequed shrimp.” Had one of my favorite local dishes become out of financial reach?
Not quite . . .
Frank Brigtsen, a famous local chef and a man who devotedly espouses the Prudhommian belief that “brown is flavor,” offers an affordable BBQ Shrimp appetizer at his eponymous, Riverbend restaurant. Open for almost 40 years, the neighborhood spot is the best place in the bend for New Orleans-style cuisine offering shrimp remoulade and filé gumbo, and of course BBQ Shrimp. Brigtsen’s version comes with lots of tangy, buttery sauce and a shrimp-stuffed calas or Creole rice fritter. Dinner at Brigtsen’s always includes a complimentary side of French bread, so try not to eat it all before your plate arrives, you’ll want to save some to soak up all of the sauce.
Speaking of famous local chefs, Susan Spicer (who is fast friends with Chef Brigtsen) also offers a decadent dish of BBQ shrimp at her Navarre neighborhood joint Rosedale. There are so many delicious dishes priced exactly right at her police-station-turned-restaurant tucked away on Rosedale Drive, from a cochon de lait po-boy to fried chicken with baked mac ‘n’ cheese. Prepared classically with heads and tails in the mix, Spicer’s BBQ shrimp is swimming in that lemony, buttery sauce and served with plenty of toasted and sliced French bread which includes five jumbo-sized Gulf beauties for $15.50.
For something just a little different, but no less fantastic, head out to Junior’s on Harrison in Lakeview. Step inside this coastal-styled corner cafe for lunch and let Executive Chef Brett Monteleone whip up his Creole/Cantonese mashup BBQ Shrimp Toast. Made with minced Gulf shrimp-coated and deep fried toast slices with lots of sesame seeds, bright green onion and that familiar Worcestershire and butter-laden sauce, it’s an appetizer you can share, or treat as an entree and keep it all to yourself. Priced at only $13, you can grab a creamy, chewy scoop of Gail’s Fine Ice Cream while you’re there and still stay under budget.
Considering any BBQ shrimp dish worth its Worcestershire comes with lots of New Orleans-style French bread, it’s natural to segue right into the po-boy. While there are quite a few to choose from, we’d be oh-so remiss if we failed to mention the Fairgrounds-famous Liuzza’s By The Track. Self-touted as their signature dish (though some may argue that honor should go to their gumbo), Liuzza’s BBQ Louisiana shrimp comes stuffed inside – and spilling out of – a chewy-crusted, Leidenheimer pistolette. Paying $15.95 for this landmark dish could be considered a crime, but we’re not talking!
The BBQ shrimp po-boy at Bourrée could be construed as an homage to Liuzza’s signature version in style and presentation, but the flavor reflects chef/owner Nathanial Zimet’s own style. Kick back under the oaks at this casual, Carrollton neighborhood spot and scarf their shrimp-stuffed pistolette, but expect a little more heat ie. a lot more Tabasco. Bourrée’s po-boy will set you back $15, but if for $3 more you can add fries and make it a meal.
Since we’re talking po-boys, we simply must talk about a particularly spectacular specimen at (where else?) Parkway Bakery. Everyone who’s anyone knows about this iconic, Bayou St. John po-boy shop that’s been serving po-boys in New Orleans since time out of mind, but everyone may not know about this incredible creation. Dubbed the “Deep Fried Creole BBQ Shrimp Po-Boy,” this super-unctuous ‘wich features toasted Leidenheimer French bread loaded with Parkway’s “traditional flash-fried” Gulf shrimp smothered in a creamier version of that classic tangy sauce. Now, you could pig out on a large for $15.49, but a “small” is only $11.59 and you’d still be able to spring for their Southern-style banana pudding (cue the ‘Nilla Wafers!) for dessert.
*Article originally published in the June 2023 issue of Where Y’at Magazine