4915 St. Anthony Ave
New Orleans, LA 70122
Napoleon's Rating - **/*****
Anyone familiar with Louisiana's prodigious seafood industry will tell you it pays to be close to the source. When it comes to boiled shrimp and shrimp po-boys, you can't get much closer to the source than Zimmer's Seafood. This Gentilly seafood market and take-out po-boy joint is run by long-time commercial fisherman Craig Zimmer and his family. They go through tons of local seafood, and that gives an edge in securing choice product.
Zimmer's is a busy, clean, hard-working seafood market, in addition to doing a great business in po-boys. People walk in and get into line next to a glass cases filled with iced-down fish filets, pints of shucked oysters and raw crabs. There really is nowhere to sit and everybody takes their wrapped-up orders to go
This is a utilitarian and family-run operation. You place an order at the counter and wait around watching the action in the open kitchen until someone calls your name and hands you a bag of food. There is usually a line, and it pays to have your order clear in your head before it's your turn at the register.
In addition to fresh seafood, the cooler cases are filled with packed-up portions of side dishes made in-house at Zimmer's. The most impressive is the crab salad, made with quartered, in-shell crab marinated in olive oil, garlic, lemon, Italian dressing and herbs. Eating it requires shell crackers and many napkins, but it's a delicious prelude to dinner. Another big specialty here is the stuffed artichoke, which is steamed in the same pot used to cook seafood. That means the dense, heavy stuffing gets suffused with a flavor of crab boil.
The gumbo is of course laden with seafood, but it's a bit too heavy on the shell for me. A crab claw or so for flavor is good, but I've had to dig past too many inedible parts in their little gumbo bowls. Shrimp and cheese are the filling for great stuffed potatoes and even the fries are good here. They use crinkle-cut style fries right from a bag, but they come out crispy, light-brown and always piping hot, which shows the attention to detail that runs through this place.
Boiled seafood is the big deal at Zimmer's, and throughout the day customers haul away big loads of crawfish or shrimp according to the season. Crawfish have a moderate spice, but shrimp is really where Zimmer's shines. The all-important freshness is clear to see in the attractive luster of these large-bodied beauties.
The biggest are boiled while the medium-sized shrimp go into po-boys, and these are coated with a flavorful, crunchy batter. It keeps the shrimp moist and firm, without overpowering their flavor. A different cornmeal batter crust is used for the fried oysters and for the catfish filets, which are so thin and crunchy you can snap off pieces of them to eat with your hands.
The bread is the seeded, Italian-style loaf from John Gendusa's Bakery, located literally around the corner from Zimmer's. The best eating here is seafood, but Zimmer's roast beef po-boy is decent.
Nothing in the appearance or operation of Zimmer's would peg the place as a dessert spot, but the little plastic trays of bread pudding with white chocolate sauce are worth saving an appetite to enjoy. They are dense, heavy and creamy-sweet.
Beverage service consists of soft drinks pulled from the cooler case.
Prices are quite reasonable. Even the very large seafood po-boys are less than $10 and smaller versions are more than adequate anyway. The economics of the season effect seafood pricing here, but Zimmer's is reliably somewhere in the middle - neither cut rate nor overpriced.
Zimmer's was completely destroyed by the levee failures after Katrina, which left little more behind than the shop's cinderblock walls. But by the following summer, the family business was back open again. Rebuilding is still very much a block-by-block thing in its surrounding Gentilly neighborhood, but everyone who is making the area work again - from returned families, to UNO staff and students, to crews of contractors - seem to line up here on a given day. This is a quintessential New Orleans seafood joint, offering familiar tastes of local tradition deep in the heart of a neighborhood that is daily rebuilding itself.