Crawfish season: It’s that glorious time of the year when, in the Southeastern U.S. in late winter and early spring, bright-red flavorful crustaceans gather in the freshwater in swamps and rivers throughout the Gulf states. The mudbugs get snapped up by amateur and professional cooks to season, boil, serve, and eat the slightly sweet, slightly savory, slightly minerally aquatic delicacy.
Mid-spring is a prime time for crawfish pop-ups in Austin, where enterprising chefs — many of whom hail from Louisiana, Mississippi, and other Gulf Coast locales — set up big outdoor pots and host lively boils at bars, restaurants, and breweries. But what makes these pop-ups really tick? Eater asked the teams behind four of the city’s most popular pop-ups what inspired them to set up shop in Austin, how they source their crawfish, and why crawfish enthusiasts should visit each one before the end of the season.
Pops Crawfish is a true family affair with roots in Mississippi and Louisiana
According to founder Kate Wiley, Pops Crawfish, the seasonal crawfish spot that she operates out of a bar lot in Four Points, is a reflection of her whole family’s Southern history. She started in 2016 using boiling and cooking techniques from her mother’s family from Natchez, Mississippi, with the help of her mother and stepfather. She also made sure to include her mom’s recipe for comeback sauce, a condiment made with mayonnaise, ketchup, and hot sauce.
When her mom and stepdad decided to pursue other business ventures, Wiley was able to keep her crawfish operation going with the help of the paternal side of her family — including her father, an Austin native, who became the eponymous “Pop,” and her stepmom, who is from Jennings, Louisiana, near the Bayou Country hotspot of Lake Charles.
Louisiana touches can be found all over the Pops Crawfish. She sources her mudbugs from Lafayette. She also notes that she and the team cook the crawfish “the Louisiana way” by taking their time with it. They mix their own Cajun seasoning and take care to fully season both the head and the tail.
In 2017, Pops Crawfish teamed up with Rock House Bar & Trailer Park in northwest Austin since the owner was a family friend. The bar provides outdoor space for the team to set up seven large cookers custom-created for them in southern Louisiana. In addition to mudbugs, Pop’s serves vegetables like corn, potatoes, and Brussels sprouts, along with boiled shrimp. Wiley points out that the dipping sauces get particular praise; along with her mom’s comeback sauce, she offers a Creole remoulade based on her stepdad’s recipe, a Louisiana hot sauce inspired by one made by her stepmom, and a Cajun-garlic butter.
While food is a major draw, Wiley says that hospitality is at the core of what Pops does. “We try to make people feel like they’re part of our family,” she says. Everybody knows her father. “We have people coming by all the time, people I’ve never met, sometimes younger than me, who just go ‘Oh yeah, is Pops around?’ We try to make everyone feel comfortable. We go around and check on guests and make sure that everyone’s having a good time.”
Pops Crawfish can be found at Rock House Bar & Trailer Park in Four Points on Friday and Saturday throughout the crawfish season. This year, they’ll do their final service over Memorial Day weekend. They’re also available for catering.
Lazo’s, helmed by a champion oyster shucker, pops up on Sundays at Celis Brewery
Sergio Lazo may live and work in landlocked Austin, but that hasn’t stopped him from devoting his culinary life to the shellfish arts. He began his journey as an oyster shucker at longtime Corpus Christi seafood restaurant Water Street Oyster Bar. After that, he continued to hone his oyster shucking skills, earning accolades at competitions including the U.S. National Oyster Shucking Championship Contest. These experiences, combined with the fact his family is from South Louisiana and South Texas, instilled a deep appreciation of shelled seafood, which set the scene for his Austin pop-ups.
Lazo started working with Celis Brewery in North Austin during the pandemic; he first joined up as a manager when the brewery reopened in the summer of 2020. When then-taproom manager Bonham White and current general manager Trevor Mortensen learned of Lazo’s oyster-shucking prowess, they asked him to host seafood pop-ups centered on 99-cent East Coast oysters in the beer garden.
The idea to branch out into crawfish boiling came from Lazo’s upbringing. He had done many boils in college and with his family, but nothing to the scale of a customer-facing pop-up, he says. But now, at Celis, he’s adding techniques inspired by his father, “how my dad always did it.” Using his Peruvian heritage, he incorporates South American ingredients and dishes into his boils, such as Peruvian-style sausage, side dishes like ceviche, and garnishes like mushrooms, pineapples, and cilantro.
In the future, Lazo hopes to open a physical seafood bar in the Austin area with oysters, crawfish, and other shellfish-centric offerings. But for now, Lazo’s can be found at Celis Brewery on Sundays, and they’ll be hosting crawfish boils until the end of the spring season.
With Down South Cajjun Eats, twin brothers took a casual college-campus operation and turned it into a thriving East Austin destination for crawfish fans
Twin brothers Jermaine and Jahmaal Dumes grew up in the bayou city of Beaumont, Texas, along the Louisiana border, and crawfish boils were part of their lives from the very beginning. “We come from a family of cooks,” Jermaine says, adding that many of their family members consider Louisiana home. When the brothers moved to Central Texas to attend Southwestern University in Georgetown, they “saw that there was a lack of Cajun food in Austin and the surrounding areas.” In an effort to tap into the flavors they grew up with while living away from home, the Dumeses started doing casual crawfish boils for their friends on campus. After getting huge accolades from their fellow students, the brothers branched out into cooking for events and catering gigs.
The success of their boils encouraged them to open an outdoor-only Cajun restaurant called Down South Cajjun Eats with a broader menu in Pflugerville during the pandemic. But their big dream was to open a full-service restaurant; recently they secured a new space in Pflugerville where they can make that happen. They shut down their first restaurant to make way for the new project, which is slated to open later this spring. While they’re more accustomed to alfresco cooking, the Dumeses look forward to having an indoor dining space so people can get out of the heat and don’t have to worry about the elements, or as Jahmaal explains, a place “where people can be comfortable.” They’re also excited to add a bar menu that reflects the flavors and cocktail themes of East Texas, New Orleans, and Louisiana as a whole.
In the meantime, the Down South team keeps their skills sharp and their crawfish appreciation fresh by hosting pop-up boils at Austin Daiquiri Factory in East Austin. Austin Daiquiri Factory reached out to Jermaine and Jahmaal shortly before Mardi Gras this year to ask them about hosting an event-specific boil, but the mega-positive reaction led to a standing invitation every Sunday. They embrace the visibility that this East Side locale gives to their business, explaining that it “has given us a lot more exposure than we had before because now we’re reaching the east and downtown and south crowds.”
Down South uses classic Cajun spices to season their crawfish, but that isn’t all that the Dumes brothers draw from their family’s Louisiana heritage. The mudbugs come from Louisiana Wild, where the company sources the crawfish from the state and brings them back to Austin. The brothers also tap into Louisiana-style hospitality traditions, doing it “the way we did it growing up,” says Jahmaal. “We keep everything authentic, from the music to the line dancing — we just make everybody feel at home.”
The brothers also make sure that they help out first-time crawfishers. “We show them how to do it the right way the first time,” says Jahmaal, “and we tell them to try eating the head. If they don’t like it, that’s cool, but they’ve got to try. People who try it [for] the first time [here] will come back and get a pound the next time.”
Down South Cajjun Eats serves crawfish boils on Sundays at Austin Daiquiri Factory until the end of crawfish season in the summer.
The duo behind Eastside Boilers combines crawfish traditions from far-East Texas and far-West Texas to create an ideal backyard boil
Greg Barber and Greg Pratt’s crawfish-boil project Eastside Boilers came to fruition because of the strong community they built within the Austin hospitality world. The co-owners began in 2014, hosting boils for friends who owned bars around the city. “We did it for fun and for cheap,” Barber says. But when they realized that they were getting a lot of attendees, “we decided to turn it into an actual business.” Eastside Boilers started officially in 2017. Both Gregs have a lifetime connection to the art of the crawfish boil; Barber hails from Huffman, Texas, just outside of northeast Houston. “Crawfish was a big deal around there during the season, and it was one of my favorite things to eat growing up,” he says. “What I [like] most about crawfish boils is that they bring so many people together for a good time.”
Pratt comes from East El Paso, and while that’s certainly not a city near the Gulf Coast, there’s still a strong culture of crawfish boiling in that western stretch of the state thanks to El Paso’s canal system. Barber explains how Greg grew up with family boils where they’d catch crawfish through traps in the canals.
Eastside Boils uses classic Cajun and Creole seasonings, and they make a point of sourcing ingredients from local purveyors. They get their andouille sausage from Austin meat market Hudson.
In addition to popping up at bars throughout East Austin like Latchkey and Progress Coffee, they’ve taken a big step this year by building an outdoor kitchen at Buda venue Willie’s Joint. The duo serves boils there Thursdays through Sundays, along with other dishes. Eventually, they’re hoping to grow into their own dedicated physical spot with a sizable lawn space where they can host boils with the fun and laid-back vibes of a backyard party with a friend, but also with the precision provided by skilled crawfish pros.