Mudbugs. For some of us, that word conjures up images of creepy-crawlies making tracks through wet soil under our feet.
But these little things are edible — and delicious! The critters are freshwater crustaceans, and depending on where you grew up, you’ve probably heard them called by one of many names — mudbugs in Louisiana, crawfish in the South, crawdads in the Midwest and Southwest, crayfish in the North, and they’re even called “freshwater lobsters” in some places. They do look like miniature lobsters…
You can get your fill of these things in downtown Augusta soon, as French Market Grille West is hosting its 10th annual Mudbugabeaux-N-Brew from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday, June 2. It’s a giant, New Orleans-style crawfish boil, along with plenty of other good food, craft beers and live music.
Jim Beck, the restaurant’s owner and executive chef, said he loves bringing this Cajun-food festival to the area. It seems to grow each year, with about 2,800 people showing up last year to break open crawfish. That’s almost doubled from the amount of people who showed up in one of the first few years.
“It’s fun, just getting people together and exposing them to crawfish,” Beck said. “A lot of people may not have been around them very much. It’ll be a live crawfish boil going, and it’s just something for people to get together, just hang out and have fun.”
In the first few years of the festival, he’d sell off about 1,200 pounds of crawfish. This year, to accommodate more people possibly showing up, he’s planning about 3,000 pounds of mudbugs.
So, just how many of the little guys can one person put away?
“It’s hard to say, because we sell either a pound or two pounds, and it’s cheaper to buy the two pounds,” Beck said. “And I’ve seen guys go up there and get four or five trays of two pounds of crawfish, so some people eat 10 pounds or better.”
It’s a lot to get crackin’. Beck said they’re easy to eat, but it takes a lot to make a good meal. If you’re unfamiliar with eating crustaceans, it’s almost an art to get the meat out. According to cajuncrawfish.com, there’s a certain way to eat crawfish like a true Cajun would in Louisiana.
First, pick up the crawfish you want to tear into. Cajuncrawfish.com says to “grab the head firmly with one hand and grab the tail with the other hand. Twist and pull the tail from the head. Suck the head for a little extra Cajun flavor (optional). Peel off the first two or three rings of the tail, then pinch the tail and pull the meat from it. Dip the meat in your favorite sauce (also optional).” Repeat those steps until you’ve eaten up all your mudbugs.
But honestly, if you’d rather just get in there, then just dig in and craft your own techniques.
Beck got the mudbug bug back in 1992 when he took in a crawfish festival down in New Orleans, and ever since he wanted to bring something like that to Augusta. Finally, a decade ago he did, and Augusta’s summers haven’t been the same since.
Although other times of the year might not be quite so hot, the crawfish season runs from late January through Labor Day, which really leaves only a few dates left that French Market Grille West can host such an event.
Beck has the mudbugs trucked in from Louisiana in the weeks leading up to the event.
“It’s hard to say (how many pounds of crawfish people eat), because we sell either a pound or two pounds, and it’s cheaper to buy the two pounds. And I’ve seen guys go up there and get four or five trays of two pounds of crawfish, so some people eat 10 pounds or better.”
“We freeze them getting ready for the festival, and I’ll have a good many down there live in a tub to let some of the patrons come by and see them,” he said.
As Augusta has been very wet the past couple of weeks, there’s a chance rain will come down on the event. But as always, Beck said, the show goes on, rain or shine.
There will be plenty of other things to eat, including muffaletta sandwiches (another Louisiana favorite), Beck’s famous jambalaya, gumbo and boiled peel-and-eat shrimp, as well as more kid-friendly foods like corn dogs.
The live music, organized by Beasley Broadcasting, will get started soon after gates open, first with Nick and the Nightcrawlers, then Old Man Crazy, and Whole Lotta Soul will play last. Miranda Winter, an Augusta native who got a golden ticket on “American Idol” during the show’s 14th season, will be performing with folk/Americana band AcostA.
Although Winter didn’t make it past the first round’s cut, she recently won a similar, local competition in Statesboro called Statesboro Voice, according to ConnectStatesboro.com. She told the news outlet she started singing as soon as she started talking, and she became serious about it when she was 16, when she started singing in bars and restaurants in Augusta.
The mudbug festival will be complete with a stage on one end and a good-size tent that people can sit under. Then there’s a tent with craft beer, including selections from Riverwatch Brewery and Savannah River Brewing Company, as well as Bud, Bud Light and Michelob Ultra. But if you prefer wine, they’ve got that, too.
Last year, the festival went without an area for kids, but the fun stuff for youngins (including rides and inflatables) will be back this year.
With this being the 10th anniversary, the first 1,000 people to show up will get a commemorative T-shirt, designed by Kruhu. Admission is $10 (free for kids 12 and under), and the food is moderately priced, so you shouldn’t have to break the bank to enjoy the festivities.
Go get a Cajun kick-off to summer — it’s always a good time for the whole family to get out, and hopefully Augusta will actually have some sunshine over the weekend.
10th Annual Mudbugabeaux-N-Brew
Noon – 6 p.m. Saturday, June 2
$10, general; free, kids 12 and under
frenchmarketwest.com or 706-855-5111