WESTMONT – As January begins to fade and we hit the home stretch to spring, Mardi Gras festivities begin in many parts of the country culminating on Fat Tuesday in New Orleans. If you want to experience a taste of Mardi Gras locally, Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen should be your destination.
The Pappas family immigrated to the U.S. in 1897 from Greece and started several small restaurants in the mid-southern states. While the next generation transitioned to restaurant refrigeration equipment, grandsons Chris and Harris returned to the family roots and opened their first restaurant in Texas.
Today, the Pappas family owns and operates nearly 100 restaurants in seven states under eight different brands, many incorporating their name – Pappas Bros. Steakhouse, Pappasito’s Cantina and of course, Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen – into most brands. The Westmont outpost is the only destination in Illinois and often ranks at or near the top of the Pappas leaderboard.
Pappadeaux incorporates several seafood varieties, with a great description of each species on their website and several Cajun preparations and ingredients such as alligator, boudin sausage and more. There are a few pastas and steaks to round out a large-scale menu. Everything about Pappadeaux is large scale!
First-time diners can be intimidated by the sea of cars in the parking lot, but things move quickly in this large-capacity eatery. The bar has all your favorites plus lots of interesting Cajun specialties – Captain’s Hurricane, Purple Voodoo, First Kiss and others. There are also a couple of zero proof options for $3.75 with $0.95 refills combining various house-made syrups such as passion fruit, blueberry and more.
After seating, a fresh baked baguette arrives quickly with whipped butter. With more than 2 million baked last year, they are a crowd favorite and surpassed only by their garlic bread made from the same loaf.
Oysters are a Pappadeaux staple, served either raw or fully dressed. The oyster duo matches three oysters Pappadeaux with crabmeat, spinach, hollandaise and feta, along with three oysters Baton Rouge, which feature a broiled Parmesan Romano cheese sauce on top. The broiled cheese topping forms a crispy exterior shell that provides great contrast to the juicy oyster beneath.
Hot smoked salmon utilizes Atlantic salmon, smoked in house and plated with a creamy maple mustard sauce and crostini. Cold smoked and then served warm, it was firm, but buttery soft with a rich, salmon flavor. A delicious start to our meal.
Staples like fried calamari served with spicy marinara and lemon aioli and mozzarella sticks intersperse with boudin sausage, fried frog’s legs and crispy fried alligator.
While the appetizer list is extensive, my favorite is the shrimp and crawfish fondeaux. This is a highlight dish combining mushrooms and spinach along with the shrimp and crawfish. The mixture is baked in one of the cheesiest sauces I’ve ever encountered and served with garlic bread. This pairing silences the table!
Soups and gumbos are a standout. Crawfish or lobster bisque are creamy and flavorful. Andouille sausage and seafood gumbo features a spicy, deep flavored roux loaded with shrimp, oyster, crab, rice and okra and topped with andouille sausage. It will wake up your taste buds and once again, requires generous amounts of bread! Soups are also available in reduced priced parings on the lunch menu.
Several salads are offered, but I steer towards the Greek salad on most visits. Prepared table side for one to six diners, it is easy to eliminate an ingredient for dietary reasons. Ingredients include fresh vegetables, imported Kalamata olives, capers, pepperoncini peppers, oregano and feta cheese tossed in Pappas Greek dressing and garnished with a shrimp. These are large, so under order for splitting.
Crab cakes are a standout with the crab ratio well more than 95 percent. Plated on a lemon, butter, caper and basil sauce, they’re available as a single or double and topped with crispy potato straws, adding a nice crunch.
Crawfish or shrimp etouffee is smooth as silk, a trademark dish in Cajun country and at Pappadeaux. Etouffee utilizes a smaller amount of liquid resulting in a thick, flavorful sauce that actually braises the crawfish or shrimp during the cooking process. Up the ante and substitute dirty rice for white.
Shrimp three ways is an old favorite and available by request. Shrimp etouffee, fried shrimp and shrimp creole are served over white or dirty rice, your choice. It’s a great way to sample two great Cajun sauces.
Most restaurants include a pasta selection, and Pappadeaux is no exception. Newly added shrimp and scallop orecchiette pasta marries shrimp and scallops over orecchiette pasta with jumbo lump crab and asparagus in a creamy parmesan vodka sauce. It’s a rib-sticking meal and for pasta lovers, a nice change from the red sauce world.
Redfish, red drum or drum is one of my favorite fish selections. As with most fresh fish at Pappadeaux, there are several preparations available including blackened, fried, sauced or as a signature dish. Texas redfish pontchartrain is another Pappadeaux classic. Pan-grilled redfish is topped with jumbo lump crabmeat and shrimp in a brown butter wine sauce alongside dirty rice. The fish is fresh, firm, moist, boneless and cooked perfectly.
Change the sauce to lemon and substitute butternut squash risotto and you have another classic, grilled redfish and jumbo shrimp. The combinations are endless.
While sides at many restaurants are an afterthought, Pappadeaux serves up nearly 20 and allows substitution for either no charge or a small upcharge. Consider baked crab mac and cheese, cheese grits andouille and corn, red beans and rice, among others. Many are unique to this area.
While Pappadeaux can be a bit on the pricey side, the desserts are a relative bargain….unless you take the entire dessert tray, which is artfully presented tableside. Praline bread pudding soufflé is served warm, topped with ice cream and accompanied by a rich bourbon sauce. With coffee or cappuccino, heavenly! Sweet potato pecan pie mixes two of my favorites and is another winner. Decadent banana wafer pudding is layered in a mason jar and topped with whipped cream and a decorative vanilla wafer. There’s even a sampler trio for the undecided.
With daily happy hour bar specials on oysters and several appetizers, occasional Dixieland jazz entertainment, a huge and diverse menu and desserts to die for, Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen performs on all cylinders. The staff, from greeters to wait staff to kitchen, is well trained and flexible enough to handle most requests.
Pappadeaux has that unique vibe that combined with its large size (it seats nearly 300) and rollicking, party-like atmosphere makes it seem like Mardi Gras in the French Quarter all year long. So grab your favorite set of beads and celebrate all February and all year.
If you go
WHAT: Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen
WHERE: 921 Pasquinelli Drive, Westmont
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
DRESS CODE: Casual
INFO: 630-455-9846, pappadeaux.com
RESERVATIONS: Not Accepted
NOISE FACTOR: Rollicking
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