Located in the middle of “NOWHERE!”, Hawk’s in Robert’s Cove, La. is a destination worth the drive. In fact, customers have come from as far away as Canada, France and Jerusalem to eat their world-famous purged crawfish.
In the late 1970s, Luther Arceneaux operated a bar and grill out of a cinder block building in rural Roberts Cove. Back then, the oilfield was booming, and workers came in to grab a burger or plate lunch, before playing cards. By 1978, Hawk was tired of farming and decided to quit. His grandson Anthony, who was 15 years old at the time, seized the opportunity. He emancipated himself, borrowed $62,000, and started raising crawfish. “In about 1980 or ’81, I saw so many huge and beautiful crawfish that I could not get rid of them,” he recalls.
Anthony’s dad, L. H. “Hawk” Arceneaux, decided to convert the bar into a restaurant to serve these massive crustaceans. But, Hawk also wanted his crawfish clean. “Dad always washed his crawfish,” Anthony explains. Hawk found out that Texas A&M University had developed a purging system for crawfish, and brought Anthony with him to investigate.
Hawk got the general concept of what A&M was doing, and decided to try it back home. Hawk’s purging process begins with select, live, hand-graded crawfish, which are placed in a “live well.” For about 48 hours, the crawfish are slowly churned in a current of fresh, aerated water. “The rural location allows us to use fresh underground water, as chlorinated water is toxic to the crawfish,” Hawk’s website explains. The result -- “cleaner” crustaceans, with no gritty black line down the back of the tails.
In 1982, Hawk built a bigger, better place to serve boiled crawfish. “It worked,” Anthony shares proudly. “We only had nine tables, and we always stayed packed.”
Hawk’s officially opened in 1983, when Anthony was 21. Advertising was solely by word-of-mouth. “From the first time it opened, we had a crowd, with lines outside,” Anthony says. “It was the ‘secret’ place that people would bring their friends to.”
That secret is no longer, as crowds continue to flock to Hawk’s as soon as crawfish season launches in the spring. Over time, Anthony expanded that original cinder block building four times to accommodate patrons. His wife of 22 years, Jennifer, who “moonlights” as a singer in the popular local band Louisiana Red, has added her own specialties to the menu.
Besides its stellar crawfish, Hawk’s also serves the best prime steak around, as well as hamburgers, chicken tenders, and fried catfish and shrimp. Jennifer cooks crawfish étouffée fresh every day – the fried catfish over étouffée is a customer favorite. But, the pièce de resistance is Jennifer’s renowned bread pudding, which she also makes daily.
Hawk’s crawfish have become so well-known that the Arceneauxs’ daughter, Megan, transports them to Lafayette for boiling at the Wurst Biergarten. Megan also caters special events in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and beyond.
Recently, my foodie friend Jeanette and I made a road trip to Hawk’s, driving on dusty back roads through crawfish ponds. We arrived at a modest metal building, literally in the middle of nowhere. But, the drive was definitely worth it, as the crawfish were spectacular – enormous, easy to peel, clean and tasty. We ordered them “hot” – you can also order it regular or extra hot – and the seasoning – sprinkled on the outside – was perfect. “No crawfish are cooked ahead of time,” Anthony boasts. “We serve them hot.”
All crawfish are served with a zippy dipping sauce. On the side, you can order a boiled potato or corn. We ordered a potato – a huge, steaming hot potato served with pats of butter. For the ultimate experience, try the Hawk’s Special – three pounds of crawfish and a pound of 16-count deveined shrimp.
Hawk’s is only open during crawfish season. Hours are 5 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, and 5 to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Located at 416 Hawks Road in Rayne, Hawk’s offers directions on their website, hawkscrawfish.com, and on its Facebook page. You can also call the “helpline” at 337-788-3266. To see Hawk’s unique crawfish purging process, check it out “Hawk’s Crawfish Restaurant . . . From the Field to the Table” on YouTube.