When a restaurant includes swamp in its name and splashes the word around wantonly on its menu, you really can't be sure if you should be eating the oysters. Fortunately, bayou standards like jambalaya, gumbo, and fried seafood fill out the menu (and all ably represent the beloved culinary genre). Even better news: SwampWater Grill doesn’t settle for the obvious. The extensive menu features amped up pub-style items for those who may be squeamish about crawfish tails (which can be added to just about anything on the menu). You’ll also find a roundup of oyster, shrimp, and catfish Po’Boys, as well as a whole menu section devoted to hardwood-smoked meats. It was a dish unappealingly marketed as Swamp Pasta that edged out the rack of ribs as my dining group’s dark horse favorite. Tender bites of crab, crawfish, and shrimp mingled with shallots, mushrooms, roasted red peppers, penne, and Parmesan cheese, all of it bathed in a spicy cream sauce. French bread morphed into a utensil and ultimately I had to push my chair out for some belly room. At first blush, SwampWater Grill is a dive where homesick Cajuns can find a good pile of jambalaya. But thoughtful details like draft Abita Root Beer and char-grilled Gulf Coast oysters on the half shell signal ambition. And therein lies the SwampWater sweet spot: casual classics done right and served alongside the slightly unexpected.
SwampWater Grill, 3742 Kellogg Ave., East End, (513) 834-7067, swampwatergrill.com
Originally published in the February 2014 issue.