Apologies for the cheesy pun, but pinch me(!) it’s crawfish season, and there’s nothing like the spicy smell of mudbugs that lets you know spring is upon us. If you’ve grown up in the South you can most likely appreciate the phrase ‘pinch the tail and suck the head’. If you’re unfamiliar, we’re talking about crawfish – a dish that celebrates eating with your hands, and goes best with a cold beer and good friends.
Until now, San Antonio’s crawfish scene has been pretty flat. Brick-and-mortars serve it up, but they’re missing that familial flavor that makes crawfish more of an experience than a meal. Enter PINCH Crawfish Kitchen, a new player on the culinary scene, boiling up a community concept around Vietnamese-style crawfish.
Brothers in boil, Sean Wen and Andrew Ho, who go by “Craylor Swift” and “Prawn Solo”, respectively, are the magic behind PINCH Crawfish Kitchen. The two established their roots in college, hosting backyard boils for their friends at the University of Texas in Austin, and cooking for the UT football team. For the pair, it was about more than making a buck. It was about honoring the cultural story behind a comfort food they were raised on, and sharing that tradition with friends.
Both Sean and Andrew hail from Houston, where crawfish boils are an every weekend family affair when cray are in season. They grew up in the backyards of friends and family, pinching tales, seasoning sides, and shooting the shit. It’s just what you do.
Conventionally, people think of crawfish as a Cajun delicacy, and don’t get us wrong, they’ve pretty much perfected the art. But, the Vietnamese culture has strong ties to those mini lobsteresque crustaceans too. After the fall of Saigon, a huge population of Vietnamese families found themselves fishing off the gulf coast, and calling Houston and New Orleans home. Fishermen by trade and chefs by night, they began infusing traditional Vietnamese ingredients with the native fish they caught to develop a beautiful blend of rich, buttery, garlic goodness. PINCH’s recipe is based on those same pillars of taste – fresh cut green onion, garlic butter, and natural citrus.
For Sean and Andrew, opening an eatery had always taken a backseat to mainstream careers in finance and engineering. After a night out in Thailand, it became more than an idea the two tossed around in college. We won’t elaborate on the libations involved, but we will say that was the night the concept for PINCH Crawfish Kitchen was born.
Make no mistake, this pair isn’t just a couple of bros with a hobby. They’re well traveled gentleman who take the crawfish game seriously, and have been perfecting their recipe for crawdads over the past seven years. Up until about a month ago, Andrew was “Eat, Pray, Loving” his way through Southeast Asia, getting to know local chefs, building on personal recipes, and honing his craft.
The ultimate goal for the guys of PINCH is to open a food truck that serves up classic Vietnamese-style street food. They just completed their Indigogo goal, which will help them bootstrap their dream. But until then, PINCH Crawfish Kitchen will be making appearances at your favorite spring and summer venues, plating crawfish by the pound.
In a way, San Antonio has served as muse to the PINCH vision. Sean moved here six months ago after being placed in San Antonio through a fellowship program called Venture for America. Living downtown, he was able to appreciate the evolving culinary landscape that told him this city was ready for fresh flavors and community ties, in a bigger sense. “We were attracted to the wave of momentum and familial foundation that San Antonio has,” Sean said. “People are now understanding food is so much more than eating, its about an experience.”
Too often, a lot of people compare ourselves to Austin, but what’s beautiful about San Antonio is that I don’t think it has to. It’s creating its own identity as it goes, and that should be celebrated.
The city has already been extremely supportive of the venture, and serves as the perfect backdrop for an eat-among-friends concept. “Too often, a lot of people compare ourselves to Austin, but what’s beautiful about San Antonio is that I don’t think it has to. It’s creating its own identity as it goes, and that should be celebrated.” Culturally speaking, a crawfish boil is about family, and that’s one sentiment San Antonio’s got down.
If you haven’t tried Vietnamese-style crawfish, it has a richer taste that brings out the natural flavors. The ingredients infuse to enhance what you experience in your mouth, “…the garlic is so much more real”, Sean says. Personal preference? Go on, throw the whole bulb in!
Rather than a traditional locale, Sean and Andrew opted for a trendier pop-up concept that better captured the backyard feel of a crawfish boil. “We wanted to reproduce, or if you’ve never experienced a crawfish boil, introduce, people to what an authentic crawfish boil was like. With a food truck, or brick-and-mortar, it can be hard to replicate the idea behind crawfish that represents community”.
What can you expect to see on the menu? Locally-sourced sides that include the classics; sweet corn, spicy potatoes, andouille sausage, and possibly mushrooms and brussels sprouts in a buttery sauce. Don’t worry, there’s still a good amount of heat to it. The community events are truly crawfish boils in the most traditional sense. Picture low-key weekends with friends and family at your favorite spots. Crawfish is served fresh by the pound, everyone’s welcome, no utensils necessary.
PINCH Crawfish Kitchen will be celebrating Cinco de Mayo with us this Thurday, May 5th at Dorcol Bar + Taproom. The Keep SA Real sponsored event, “Music for Advanced Listeners,” will feature sounds curated by DJ Novasoul and Darby of Labkids, as well as craft cocktails by Dorcol that compliment the savory citrus based flavors of PINCH’s classic Vietnamese take on mudbugs. Get more details or RSVP for the event here.
Listen, eat, drink, and chill. Music starts at 8pm.