Alligator crossing: Unique southern eats in Rye

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Whether or not you’re brave enough to taste alligator, if you’re seeking a wholly unique dining experience, swing by the Rye Roadhouse.

Open for seven years now, the High Street eatery combines Creole and Cajun flavors in its lengthy, meat-and-seafood oriented menu. Without forgoing taste, some of the signature Creole spice is toned down to appease the northern palate. You certainly won’t find anywhere else with a menu that draws from French, African, Caribbean and even Italian cuisine within many, many miles.

The casual restaurant is adorned with southern paraphernalia, like alligator figurines and signs paying tribute to the Louisiana area. Regardless of décor, maintaining a level of authenticity has required several business trips down to New Orleans for extensive tasting and research. The restaurant’s original chef, Joe Baynes, hails from The Big Easy, so southern cooking was innate.

Crawfish etouffee

Crawfish etouffee

Current head chef, Aaron Monis, was a sous chef under Baynes for three years and has successfully continued what his predecessor began.

Monis’ favorite dish is the ever-improving Big Joe’s Jambalaya, made with andouille sausage, chicken, pork, shrimp and crawfish tails mixed in a seasonal rice pilaf and served over creole sauce.

Named after the beloved Baynes, this dish is a definite staple and a must-order for anyone’s first visit. ‘Gator nuggets, blackened or fried, are among the most popular and exotic items on the menu. Beer battered fried pickles and popcorn shrimp are two irresistible appetizers served with Cajun remoulade that you’ll have to fight over, if shared.

Blackened ‘gator nuggets

Blackened ‘gator nuggets

Another signature, the craw-fish etouffee entrée, contains pan sautéed crawfish tail meat and seasoned rice in a creole sauce.

Less NOLA-inspired but equally tasty were the barbecued ribs.

While the bulk of the menu has remained constant over the years, Monis is often able to exercise creativity with seasonal specials. He also has his loyal customers to thank for that; many regulars come in and don’t even glance at a menu. They have exhausted the regular offerings and are eager for Monis to surprise them with a brand new creation.

Many customers come almost every day, whether for a drink, snack or full meal. Monis noted the managers know the vast majority of patrons each day.

This speaks to the clear sense of community surrounding the Roadhouse. The restaurant often welcomes throngs of Little League players and their families after games at the nearby Gagliardo Park. The Roadhouse both orchestrates and participates in a host of special events throughout the year, demonstrating the staff’s commitment to involvement in its immediate neighborhood and beyond.

The biggest annual celebration takes place, suitably, during Mardi Gras in February or March. Celebrating “Fat Tuesday,” the final day to indulge before Lent begins, the restaurant transforms into one you’d find on Bourbon Street, serving dark and stormy cocktails and Abita beer on tap. There’s always live music and plenty of king cake at what Monis describes as one of the best nights of the year.

For serious meat lovers, another special event to look forward to during the chilly winter months is the “Fat Guy Fry Fest” on a Sunday afternoon each January. The Roadhouse sets up multiple deep fryers outside in addition to outdoor games, weather permitting. Food—including Cajun-injected turkeys, sirloin steak, deep fried wings, potato croquettes and pork loin—is free for anyone to come enjoy.

Other off-menu items featured in the past include a dish called “bacon explosion” comprised of sausage stuffed with bacon, wrapped in bacon and covered in barbeque sauce, as well as Reuben and bacon cheeseburger “eggrolls.”

The Fry Fest lasts through NFL playoff games until food runs out, and attendees are facetiously advised to “BYO defibrillator.”

Sampler of signature dishes

Sampler of signature dishes

In the meantime, come take advantage of the nightly menu additions every Monday through Thursday: quesadillas, half-priced burgers, fried chicken and Cajun “steam pot” with seafood and sausage, respectively. Although it’s difficult to put a Cajun twist on fresh pasta, Monis also tries to sneak it into the mix whenever possible.

Roadhouse breakoutboxAdditional specials are available on weekend evenings, when you’ll find a lively bar scene. A limited, yet varied, late night menu is served on Friday and Saturday nights from 11 p.m. until 1 a.m..

The Sunday brunch menu features an award-winning Bloody Mary that I look forward to sampling—although I’m just not sure how early in the morning I can stomach ‘gator.

Brought to you by SoWeTaste, a division of the Southern Westchester Food & Wine Festival. Join us from Sept. 19 to 21 for a unique culinary celebration featuring the Tri-State Area’s finest eats. @sowefoodfest; www.sowefwf.com.