It’s a cool, overcast Saturday morning when I turn from Plank Road into the parking lot at Tony’s Seafood Market & Deli. At 10 a.m., there are only about 10 other cars in the lot, a telltale sign that the blue and brick building isn’t yet in the throws of crawfish season.
But give it two weeks of 70 degrees and sunny skies, and owner Bill Pizzolato says the iconic Baton Rouge seafood market will be bursting with customers seeking live and boiled crawfish.
The Saturdays and Sundays of crawfish season are the busiest days of the year for Tony’s, which opened its doors to seafood patrons in 1972.
“We’ve been doing it probably for the longest around here,” Pizzolato says. “We’ve been dealing with crawfish since 1972, over 45 years, and every year we try to improve and see if we can do something a little bit different.”
As prices drop and the desire for an afternoon crawfish boil heats up, the market and deli’s big parking lot will require two sheriffs to direct traffic and another inside to control customer flow from about 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.
With more than a month left of Lent and springtime on the horizon, Pizzolato says Tony’s will have to hire additional hands to move about 100,000 pounds of crawfish a week from the trucks to the store and finally to the customer’s car.
With an overflow of customers comes longer lines, but Tony’s remains a staple for Baton Rouge residents and all their seafood needs. Pizzolato says it’s the market’s quality and standard of care that keeps customers coming back for more.
“It’s just a lot of TLC into the crawfish that makes our crawfish quality the top,” Pizzolato says. “You want to have three things: You want to have consistency, you want to have quality, and you want to have value.”
In the back of the market, Tony’s manager Blaine Pizzolato walks me through the crawfish cleansing process. We start out in the chilled back room, where bags of live crawfish are delivered overnight and stored. From there, employees move crawfish to a conveyor belt, where they’re rinsed twice before sorting.
And there’s a personal touch to Tony’s crawfish. Employees remove debris, trash and dead crawfish by hand, so that only quality, live crawfish make it into the basket. Tony’s then rinses and soaks the crawfish before they’re available for purchase live or boiled.
Pizzolato says most of Tony’s crawfish come from the region’s rice fields, and some wild crawfish are caught in the Atchafalaya Basin. Lower water levels and warmer temperatures mark the peak of crawfish season as the crawfish supply in the basin rises.
Tony’s also offers live catfish, other fresh fish, crabs, oysters, shrimp and more.
Tony’s Seafood Market & Deli is at 5215 Plank Road. It’s is open 8 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 8 a.m.-7 p.m. on Sunday.