Photos by Ted Scheffler.
Hook & Reel Cajun Seafood & Bar
For many years, my late, generous friend Gus Magann and his brother Tony would host a Louisiana-style crawfish boil when the weather turned warm. It was a raucous, messy affair with crawfish, potatoes, boudin, artichokes, and corn cooking away in multiple giant-size pots, to be poured out onto newspaper-clad tables and attacked by hand. Meaning: with food like this you get messy. I really miss Gus and I miss his crawfish boils. And while a guy like Gus can never be replaced, I have found a funky spot to enjoy boiled seafood and to get messy: Hook & Reel Cajun Seafood & Bar in Layton.
The first Hook & Reel restaurant opened in Lanham, Maryland in 2013. Since then, the franchise has spread up and down the Eastern Seaboard and, just recently, to Utah. A Hook & Reel is now open in the space that was formerly home to Layton’s Brick Oven Pizza. There’s no sign of the pizzeria left. The entire interior was gutted and redesigned with a nautical theme. Fishnets hang from the ceiling along with anchors, creatures of the sea, widescreen TVs and more. It’s an upbeat joint with an “I’m on vacation for the night” vibe.
On a first visit, it takes some time to familiarize oneself with the menu and the various choices that are required of the customer. So I recommend ordering a cold one—Hook & Reel has a full bar—and perhaps an appetizer or two. Apps include fried calamari, chicken wings, steamed oysters, chicken tenders, garlic bread, hush puppies, etc. Crabmeat fries sounded a little weird to me so we ordered Cajun fries ($4.50), which were surprisingly good. Cooked perfectly, these spuds dusted with Cajun seasoning were nice and crispy and provided a tool to soak up some of the juice from our seafood plates later.
The main draw at Hook & Reel is steamed seafood. There is an almost endless number of combinations, but basically customers first “Pick Your Catch.” That means choosing from a number of types of seafood including clams, mussels, shrimp, crab, scallops, crawfish and such. The seafood will be steamed in a big plastic bag with a choice of sauce—this is Step 2. Sauce options are lemon pepper, garlic butter, original Cajun, plain (no sauce), dry (Old Bay Seasoning), and the Hook & Reel Special Blend. Then it’s on to Step 3: picking your heat level—mild, spicy or fire.
The steamed seafood is available in half-pound or whole pound quantities and includes a piece of corn on the cob and a couple of new potatoes. Everything is cooked right in the plastic bag that is delivered to the table piping hot. A high-rimmed platter is provided for you to dump all of your seafood, spuds, etc. onto as you prepare to wade into the deep end.
Prior to enjoying steamed seafood, we slurped down a half-dozen raw oysters (6/$10), which were plump and juicy. Unfortunately, our server who had informed us “I don’t like seafood” didn’t know what type of oyster these were. It’s also unfortunate that Hook & Reel provides only tartar and seafood sauces to accompany oysters on the half-shell. My preference is mignonette. Oh, and whoever is shucking the oysters is slacking on the job a bit. A properly shucked oyster should be completely free of its shell. These weren’t; each one still had the muscle attached. And since we weren’t given any table utensils, it made it difficult to deal with the oysters.
My wife ordered a half-pound of head-off shrimp ($11.50) which came with two potatoes and a small corn on the cob piece. It sure didn’t look like a half-pound of shrimp. Maybe the potatoes and corn go into the half-pound. There looked to be about 10-12 small shell-on shrimp—kinda skimpy.
I fared much better with my half-pound each of clams, crawfish and head-on shrimp ($21). The clams were plentiful—enough to share with my still-hungry wife. The crawfish was luscious and the shrimp…well, the head-on shrimp cooked in their shells were a challenge. The shells seemed to stick to the meat of the shrimp as if they were super-glued on. It was almost impossible not to mangle each shrimp, wrestling with the shells. I’m guessing that the kitchen had to steam the seafood bag long enough for the clams to cook and open, all the while overcooking the shrimp until they were tough and chewy. Lesson learned. Next time I’ll eschew the shrimp for more crawfish or maybe some snow crab.
I ordered my seafood bag with original Cajun seasoning and opted for the “fire” heat level. I didn’t find it all that fiery. The flavor was very good, but I had to put a lot of hot sauce onto my seafood to get it up to the heat level I was looking for. My wife ordered the Hook & Reel Special Blend—which is all of the other sauces mixed together—and liked that sauce a lot. If you’re more interested in tasting seafood, and less into tasting the sauce, I suggest ordering your Hook & Reel seafood plain or with just Old Bay Seasoning.
Thank goodness Hook & Reel serves beer, wine, and cocktails because this food really calls out for alcoholic beverages. There’s a decent wine list with names like Kendall Jackson, Kim Crawford, Mark West, Ravenswood, Francis Coppola, Dona Paula and St. Michelle. Beer at Hook & Reel comes in bottles—3.2 or full strength—and on draft; and signature cocktails include Rude Boy Lemonade, Mango Mai Tai, The Cajun Wow, Over The Top Margarita, and others.
If you prefer your seafood to be battered and fried, Hook & Reel has you covered, too. There’s an assortment of “Basket” items on the menu, including fried shrimp ($12), catfish ($12), flounder ($12), soft-shell crabs ($19), crab cakes ($19), lobster tail ($15), and chicken tenders ($8). Incidentally, our seafood-loathing server said that the only thing she eats at Hook & Reel are chicken tenders. I wonder if someday she’ll boldly try one of the po’ boy sandwiches on the menu?
All in all, I enjoyed our Hook & Reel experience. That said, it’s not hard to drop a pretty penny there. Our dinner for two, albeit with a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, came to $100 with tip. And that’s for food that we had to conquer ourselves. It’s not dainty dining, that’s for sure. So, be certain that you ask for a bib (none was offered to us initially) or wear clothes that you won’t mind tossing out after a messy Hook & Reel meal.
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.
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