Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Talk of My Town: Salt Water Willy's Bayou Cafe- A Review

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:

Appetizers: $5-$10
Sandwiches and Po' Boys: $6-$10
Entrees: $9-$25 and some market priced seafood specialties
Desserts: $5-$9

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


  1. Actually, we call him the FISH NAZI.... :-)

    (affectionately, of course!)

  2. As is also the case with Riverfront Seafood, Salt Water Willy's Bayou Cafe is quite expensive, especially for Kingsport. Bonefish Grill in Knoxville is a much better value with higher quality food. I remember hearing from a friend of his when he opened Riverfront after having the old Riverfront diner/cafe on down the road that he wasn't looking for the average Mountaineer restaurant-type of customer. He was after the Ridgefields/Fairacres types and priced everthing accordingly to weed this perceived underclass as he saw it out. I guess it's worked for him but places such as Fisherman's Dock with their superb Calabash seafood better than anywhere in Myrtle Beach has reaped the benefits. I've eaten at Riverfront a couple of times over the years and have been underwhelmed at both the quality and quantity of what was served, especially considering the premium prices. After taking a look at SWBC's menu last week with almost no prices for entrees under $15, I doubt I'll be spending my scarce resources there either. If the food matched the prices, that would be one thing but from my previous experiences and considering the warning signs on the door that many fresh gulf seafood specialties weren't available, I guess I'll stock up at Wal-Mart and fix it at home for 1/4 the price.

  3. as a former employee I would like to add that Waynes bark is much much worse than his bite. There were many times that I would not agree with his decisions or what he asked of us and I am not one to back down. I stood my ground and sometimes I lost but I truly believe he respected me and at times he would actually agree with me. I urge people to not judge the man but judge the restaurant. if you do not like it, dont go. Tell your friends whatever you want but do not base it upon what you may or may not know or think you know about a man

  4. I am a Christian as well but will never darken his door again. One of the worst dinig experiences in Kingsport, I agree WalMart and I can do it better!

  5. After calling ahead and explaining that my father-in-law was rapidly loosing his sight to Macular Degeneration(?)and that he would like to eat watching the river while he could, we drove 40 miles to eat at the River Front Cafe. We were assured no reservation was needed. Upon our arrival within an hour of calling, no one knew what we were talking about and we were seated in the center rather than the window. We explained why we were there and that we had called ahead, we were not moved even tho there were several empty booths. Our meal was well over $100 without the tip. Food was just OK and the service was below average. This was not a busy day. I expressed my displeasure at check-out to Mr. Michelli, explaing the situation. I was pretty much told that I didn't have to come back and we have not nor will we ever darken the door of any establishment he's associated with. Someone needs to explain reality to this man as for the past 3 years we have made sure as many people as possible know how we were treated. My wife works with the public in Greeneville and I can assure you that well over 1,000 people have been told. That equates to dollars our of his pocket.I found this blog looking for the menue of Saltwater Willys Bayou Cafe and now that I know what I know, I shall look no farther and we shall pass along the information that Mr.Michelli ownes this as well and not to bother as I suspect customers will be treated no differently.

  6. My wife and I decided to have lunch at Saltwater Willy's on Saturday March 12th, and figured we would be disappointed with quality of the food. We are both from the Mississippi Gulf Coast and we have spent a lot of time in and around the New Orleans area. We are now residents of Bristol, TN and have been for the last year. So having said that I must say we were very surprised by the quality of the food. everything we had was great, and I must say the gumbo was great. I have actually had gumbo back hame that wasn"t that good. Kudos and I wish you all the success with your resturant and we will be back again.

  7. Looked forward to trying Saltwater Willeys all week,took our teenage son,he ordered a bowl of Gumbo to start as he really likes good gumbo wow what a waste tiny litle bowl, two bites of sausage and no shrimp to be found, I ordered a fried shrimp entree and the breading was very heavy and grease soaked and salad was nothing special and cost extra to boot,husband ordered a soft shell crab po'boy the waitress made a big production about the different flavors of chips that went with sandwich big deal it was a bag of regular chips that you can get out of a vending machine,to make bad matters much worse after the third bite he bites into something hard and crunchy and very unappetizing so when waitress finally comes around to check on us after our glasses being empty for a long time we tell her and show her what appears to be a piece of shell she simply states Well you can take your receipt to Riverfront and get 10%off your next meal purchase there,fat chance after paying 64.75 for a horrible and extremely overpriced excuse for a meal we will stick with tried and true...Red Lobster..may be costly but always excellent meal...save your hard earned money,,Atmosphere inside doesnt match exterior either in a word YUCK