With the right lure and a master’s hand behind it, Montague’s Rapidan rod is as accurate as a samurai’s katana.
In my hand, which had not fished with bait fancier than a dough-ball or the odd worm, the Rapidan rod proved as tricky as its river namesake was to the Union army. Learning how to loft both lure and line from the end of a 10-foot fly rod requires patience, a sense of humor and a first aid kit, the last two of which I quickly depleted with my first attempt. I caught several tree branches and my left earlobe, but no fish.
As my dining partner patched my ear with Merthiolate and a Band-Aid, our friends the Dieter and Carnivore rang up to say they had a friend visiting for the weekend, that they would be dining out and did we want to come? Answering in the affirmative, we were told to meet our friends at The Fried Alligator in Colonial Heights.
Now, The Fried Alligator is an interesting restaurant to stick your knees under the table. For starters, the diminutive restaurant is in a row of storefronts tucked into the side of the old Kingsport Highway — Tenn. Highway 36 — just south of where it joins Interstate 81. The dining area contains seating for just 20 souls in an atmosphere and décor that hints at Bourbon Street in “N’Awlins,” and could use some help in that department. The food is a mix of Creole and Cajun with etoufee and gumbo prominent on a very pricey menu.
While taking meal orders, our server Brandy helped with brief descriptions of what we could expect in entrée content and spiciness. I told Brandy to bring us an order of shrimp remoulade ($8.99), a plate of blackened oysters ($10.99) and some fried alligator ($8) as appetizers for the table. The Carnivore’s friend ordered a small order of the crawfish etouffee, ($8) while the Carnivore himself chose a large order of the gumbo ($10), and the Dieter picked a half-order of the shrimp po-boy sandwich ($9.99). My dining partner decided that the small grilled Gulf shrimp platter ($10.99) was her choice, and I wanted an order of Andouille sausage on red beans & rice ($11) and a side order of Cajun corn ($2.95). Brandy had our orders in front of us inside of 15 minutes, along with our drink refills and extra napkins.
Two of the appetizers I’d ordered for the table weren’t much to look at, or taste, for that matter.
The blackened oysters weren’t black in the Cajun sense so much as black in the “cooked-too-long” sense. Laying the poor and rubbery-textured things out on a watery bed of white rice didn’t help, either. As for the shrimp remoulade, the shrimp were of the 50-count size (just short of being popcorn shrimp size) boiled and arranged haphazardly around a ramekin of “remoulade” about which the less said the better. The fried alligator was good, firm as chicken white meat with a taste similar to frog legs.
My dining partner’s grilled Gulf shrimp platter had larger shrimp (26-30 count size) that were spiced just so, then grilled just enough that they were cooked through but still tender. Her one gripe was that she’d chosen the small order instead of the large.
The Carnivore’s friend assumed that the crawfish in her etouffee would resemble shrimp both in look and taste. This was not true. A crawfish has a unique, almost lobster-like flavor and texture. Putting something as delicate as crawfish in etouffee means that its flavor and texture can get covered up by the etouffee’s spicy heat and gravy-like consistency, which is what happened. It takes a discerning tongue to pick out the crawfish flavor in there.
The Carnivore enjoyed his gumbo immensely, remarking on the quantity of claw and backfin crabmeat mixed in with chopped clam, oyster, red snapper and all those vegetables in a slow-simmered brown roux. Delicious, especially over some (properly drained) white rice.
Though my side order of Cajun corn was a disappointment, I found my Andouille sausage to be quite good with some excellent red beans and rice. The Andouille sausage used had just enough spice and a heat afterburn that lingered just long enough on the tongue. Very nice indeed.
The half-sized blackened shrimp po’ boy sandwich that our friend the Dieter had ordered took top honors for the evening. The shrimp here were lightly fried, then loaded into a half-baguette of real French bread along with grilled red peppers and onions, lettuce and tomato. You could get remoulade for a dipping sauce, but our Dieter chose ranch salad dressing instead.
Despite some disappointments with the appetizers, we all had a good time at The Fried Alligator. Please be aware that The Fried Alligator does not take checks or credit cards. They do accept cash and provide an ATM in the dining room to make your currency method of exchange easy and convenient. I am not kidding.
The Fried Alligator
5400 Fort Henry Drive, suite 8
Colonial Heights, Tennessee
Sun-Thu 12 noon – 9 p.m.
Fri-Sat 12 noon – 10 p.m.
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