Harbor Seafood & Oyster Bar
3203 Williams Blvd
Kenner, LA 70065
Napoleon's Rating: ***/*****
Harbor Seafood shares a roof (and ownership) with a busy seafood market, which might explain how it fields one of the most varied menus of local seafood in town. Whether you want it boiled, grilled, blackened, fried, stewed, stuffed or raw, this place has you covered.
The first sign that you've arrived at a great seafood joint is actually found in the rear of the restaurant, where the parking lot is paved with many thousands of spent oyster shells. Inside, the restaurant is rather narrow and, when busy, it can feel crowded. But this is a very casual restaurant, the kind of place where it seems natural to overhear the conversations at the neighboring table. The long bar is always full of solo diners or a few buddies knocking back a pitcher of beer and a dozen raw oysters.
Efficiency trumps all with the service here, which is fine and expected. The wait staff moves very fast and that's all the more noteworthy in light of all the heavy lifting they have to do. This is a place where boiled seafood comes heaped in trays, after all, and where most tables seem to order beer by the pitcher. On busy nights you should expect at least a short wait, as the benches just outside the front door attest. The good news: you can take a pitcher of beer out there while you wait.
The great variety that sets Harbor Seafood apart starts right up front with appetizers. Some people will make a dozen raw oysters or so their first course, while others build a meal around them. Then there's a whole roster of soups, of which the shrimp and corn chowder and the turtle soup are the best. The kitchen shows its skill in blackening with appetizers like alligator and calamari. Either one makes a refreshing break from fried seafood and the seasonings are just right. Frog legs are done in the style of Buffalo wings with spicy, sticky sauce and blue cheese on the side. Fries and onion rings are okay, but with such better seafood items to get to I can't especially recommend them.
Boiled seafood is the main act for many meals at Harbor, especially in the spring when crawfish are typically running at their best. Not only does Harbor do these staples justice, it puts out many of the extras you expect at a backyard boil but which don't always turn up at restaurants. That means in addition to spicy boiled potatoes and corn you can also get mushrooms, links of sausage and whole blubs of garlic treated to a nice, spicy boil.
Finfish is a strong specialty, and again the variety is part of the appeal. With that seafood market under the same roof, the menu here regularly features amberjack, cobia, tuna, redfish, trout and salmon on the same list, and often many others. I prefer to order mine blackened, since this is a kitchen that can pull it off, but they'll char-grill these generous cuts of fish too. The sides and sauces lack imagination, but these dishes really are all about the piece of fish in front of you.
Harbor's version of a combination platter is a bit different. It's called the "swamp platter," and it's a buffet on a plate with fried alligator, crawfish tails, frog legs and peppery alligator sausage, plus a cup of turtle soup and a serving of crawfish etouffee that's thick enough to be a casserole.
As if the bounty of Louisiana creatures wasn't enough, Harbor usually has a lobster on its specials list. It's split the long way and grilled, then topped with scoops of seafood stuffing.
The bread pudding is made in house and smothered with a potent rum sauce. Beyond that, the cheesecakes and pies have a from-the-box feel and aren't really worth the indulgence.
Beer is the natural accompaniment for spicy, boiled seafood, and here it's served in clever pitchers designed with interior ice columns to keep the chill. It turns out that the bar's spicy bloody Mary also makes an excellent pairing for spicy seafood. There are frozen drinks for those who really need to put the chill on their palates.
Prices are moderate and portions are very large, making Harbor overall a good value. Prices for boiled seafood and oysters fluctuate quite a bit with the season, but they're dependably on the low side of the prevailing local trend. A kid's menu keeps things simple for families. For a big feed here with beer or drinks, expect to pay about $25-$30 per person.
As spring draws closer, New Orleans eaters start fixating on seafood. For some, it's part of the Lenten tradition, while for many others it's simply a response to the arrival of crawfish season. Everyone has their favorite dishes for this time of year, but a visit to Harbor Seafood can be a refresher course in the amazing variety and local abundance. Not only does this prodigious restaurant cover all the bases, it covers them better than most.