Versus: A Tail of Two Gators

Toulouse's spicy fried alligator
If you've never tried alligator, it tastes like a cross between chicken and frog legs and has the texture of veal. A lot of people seem to be a bit trepidatious about ordering the stuff (is alligator the best menu choice in Seattle?), but it really is unintimidating, especially when you see it deep fried in a heaping pile perched on a plate with a delicious sauce accompaniment. After spotting fried alligator on two local restaurant menus, we knew it was time to give this unusual Northwest delicacy some proper reconnaissance by visiting both Toulouse Petit and Feedback Lounge.

Toulouse Petit, 601 Queen Anne Ave. N., 432-9069

We had a feeling going into this Versus challenge that it would require a strong competitor to knock this gator off the top spot, as it was our first enjoyable foray into Gatorville here in Seattle. This "calamari of the bayou," as chef Eric Donnelly lovingly refers to it, comes with a red Cajun-style fresh cocktail sauce and a white remoulade, which is basically a French classic tartar sauce. What we love about this alligator tenderloin is that it's very fresh tasting. This is no bar snack, it's a legit appetizer. The alligator is also seasoned before it's deep fried. The end result is a tender, flavorful plate of food that's not at all greasy, much like really good chicken nuggets. The dish is almost $11, but you can snag it for just $5 during happy hour.

The Feedback Lounge's beer-battered gator
Feedback Lounge (right)

6451 California Ave. S.W., 453-3259

"What do you think of it? Because I don't like them," the bartender told us after we took our first couple of bites of the beer-battered gator tail chunks. Not a good sign. We weren't really sure how to answer. After all, we were eating fried alligator at The Feedback; expectations were below bar level. A picnic-style wicker basket with a sad little piece of lettuce garnish arrived with a side of apple cider-brown sugar dipping sauce teetering on half-a-dozen or so fried little gator balls. They seemed to be peering up at us yearning for approval. The gator tail ($6, and available only during happy hour), while not great, wasn't terrible. It's reminiscent of tempura shrimp; the kind you get at cheap Chinese restaurants that are composed of way more batter than meat. The chunks were appetizing to look at -- perfectly fried to a golden brown, served piping hot. And what's not to love about the smell of freshly fried food? What they needed was some seasoning. Even some salt would have done wonders for these little guys.

Verdict: While we would never trek to West Seattle just for the Feedback's gator chunks, we would be happy to indulge in them if we were with a group of people who wanted to share theirs. Toulouse's fried alligator, on the other hand, justifies a visit to lower Queen Anne. It may not be the best thing you've ever eaten, but if you've never tried it, we think you'll get a kick out of sampling something new and delicious and perhaps just outside of your comfort zone.

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