cajun cuisine
Fat Tuesday revelers will be seeking out Cajun food this February.

Amid a flurry of new restaurants opening across Long Island in the past couple of years, Cajun seafood is an increasingly popular cuisine among diners seeking not just a meal, but a savory and fun dining experience. 

Hook & Reel Cajun Seafood & Bar in Hicksville, which opened in July 2019, is part of a growing Cajun seafood trend on LI and across the country. The 127-seat restaurant is located inside Broadway Mall.

“We like to think we’re responsible for the current Cajun seafood trend,” says Ed O’Grady, regional director of operations. Nationwide, there are 47 franchise locations from New York to California.  

The company, founded in Maryland eight years ago, also has a location in Valley Stream and one coming soon in Bay Shore. 

O’Grady refers to the meal service as “a communal experience, where people come together and it’s fun to eat.” 

Indeed, when one of Hook’s popular Cajun seafood dishes filled with snow crab legs, crawfish, clams, mussels, and shrimp hits your table, it makes quite an impression. 

“When the seafood boil comes out, it’s like a big bag of deliciousness, with all the intriguing aromas and flavors as the bag is tossed and the seafood is coated in the varied mild, medium or hot sauces,” O’Grady explains. “It’s a very sensory experience.” 

Cajun cooking originated in the swamps and bayous of southern Louisiana by French settlers who migrated there from Canada, and used unique blends of spices including bell, black and cayenne peppers to season seafood and stews.  

“We like to think we’re responsible for the current Cajun seafood trend,” says Ed O’Grady.

O’Grady thinks some of the cuisine’s allure is due to “unique flavors and the fact that it’s highly shareable.” 

He adds that food comes very quickly out of the kitchen, which is organized using a manager who schedules and maintains standards among the line cooks who man a fry side and a boil side.

Pamela Raskin, Hook & Reel’s director of marketing & brand, agrees that the trend of Cajun seafood is growing “out of control.” 

She says that competition on LI is helping to further popularize the cuisine. “Normally, more competition is bad, but not in this case.”

Tina Zhang, a franchise partner at Hook & Reel in Hicksville, says she and her partners had wanted to open a restaurant, but weren’t sure how to do it. 

“So, we started looking into different franchise options. Friends of ours had a Hook & Reel and they talked about how smooth the opening process was, and that they’ve received support ever since,” Zhang recalled. “It made our decision super easy — plus it doesn’t hurt that we’re seafood lovers too!”

Diners can select from a varied seafood menu including custom-made boils with crab, mussels, lobster, and shrimp or opt for specialties like flounder or chicken po’boys, New England clam chowder, catfish sliders, crab bites, or steamed oysters. 

Extras include corn on the cob, potatoes, and andouille sausage, all served with Hook’s made-from-scratch Cajun sauces. 

But, says O’Grady, as with all restaurants, the pandemic has had a big impact. 

“We’ve all gotten a big wake-up call,” he says, adding that the Hicksville location was closed from mid-March until May 11.  

“We took a massive hit in sales, right out of the gate,” O’Grady recalls. 

Hook & Reel uses enhanced safety protocols such as socially distanced indoor dining, temperature checks for employees, and regular disinfecting across all its locations. 

Raskin explains that one of the biggest challenges of the pandemic was having to rapidly build third-party delivery partnerships with platforms such as DoorDash, Uber Eats, and Grubhub, just to survive. 

She says that many Hook & Reel locations had to shut down since no reliable delivery platform was in place. “Before Covid hit, the company was on track to open 100 locations by 2020.” 

But O’Grady says things are looking much better now with many new locations opening soon, including more in the tri-state area such as the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Yonkers. “Our business is now consistent and steady.”

On a recent Sunday, business was brisk with a steady flow of dine-in customers, including one woman, Marita, who was dining at a nearby table and sampling a crab bite.

Asked about the food, she admitted it was her first time at a Hook & Reel. 

“I really like the experience,” she said. “I will definitely be back.” 

Hook & Reel Cajun Seafood & Bar is located at 363 Broadway Mall in Hicksville. It can be reached at 516-719-0388 or hookreel.com

For more food and drink coverage, visit longislandpress.com/category/food-drink

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