My friend, Wayne Michelli, longtime proprietor of Kingsport's Riverfront Seafood Company Market and Grill, has opened Saltwater Willy's Bayou Cafe, located in the old Amato's building on Jack White Drive in Kingsport. As you could probably figure out by the name, the specialty is Cajun/creole recipes and seafood.
I am going to begin this review in a rather odd way by addressing two issues that some would consider negatives. First, Wayne has earned quite a reputation around town as "The Seafood Nazi," a moniker borrowed from the great Seinfeld episode about the Soup Nazi. This nickname was earned because, well, how should I say this... sometimes Wayne handles confrontation a little clumsily. Rather than acquiescing to the customer when disputes arise, he stands his ground. I am not going to argue this point or pass judgment. Can't help but think of a story that culminates with, "He that is without sin, let him cast the first stone."
All I know is Wayne is a committed Christian businessman who treats his employees well and now owns two establishments that make some AMAZING food. I've never had an issue, nor do I expect to.
Secondly, one of the first complaints people will voice about Saltwater Willy's will be the prices. This is NOT a chain restaurant in the vein of Cheddar's, O'Charley's, or Chili's and it should not be judged against those. The pricing is roughly as follows:
Sandwiches and Po' Boys: $6-$10
Entrees: $9-$25 and some market priced seafood specialties
The recipes are authentic. The real deal. The Cajun dishes utilize some ingredients only found in the Louisiana area and no short cuts are taken. The seafood is fresh. The meats are prime. In my opinion, the food is WELL WORTH the price paid. Kingsport needs more places that offer "something special" and not another dozen Mexican restaurants or Chinese buffets.
Now for the good stuff! AAAAaaaahhh EEEEEEEEE! Dat some good food, dare!
If you only sample one appetizer, make it the Crawfish Pie. It is out of this world. The frog legs and calamari are great too.
One entree that is sure to please and probably become a star is the "Voodoo Pasta Jambalaya." It is a mix of pasta Alfredo with Cajun spices, crawfish, shrimp and sausage. It would make a guppy slap a whale! All the usual suspects are present too. Crawfish and shrimp etouffee (I had the crawfish etouffee tonight), gumbo, jambalaya, red beans and rice, as well as many others.
Lay aside any misconceptions that Cajun food is too hot and spicy. There are PLENTY of choices that are mild and many other things that are not Cajun at all.
Paige had the Louisiana catfish with a crab reduction sauce and a side of Cajun cheese grits that was something special. My father enjoyed a man-size portion of a stuffed pork chop entree with baked sweet potato, most of which ended up in a to-go box. My mom and sister enjoyed their Po' Boy sandwiches, which are authentic right down to the French baguette bread.
Two desserts, among many, not to be missed are the Jimmy Lee Pie w/ ice cream (a recipe borrowed from the original Saltwater Willy's that was on New Beasonwell Road in Kingsport 20 years ago) and the bread pudding.
They offer a reduced price lunch menu, as well as, a children's menu.
The Bottom Line
I love Cajun fare and this is great Cajun fare! I am super excited about having another original restaurant that offers excellent food and service. You definitely need to give it a try. You will not be sorry.
If you see Wayne, tell him Tiger sent you. I ought to, at the least, get dessert out of this.
Grace and Peace