Once again, I stumbled upon a great restaurant with a name that needs explaining before I discuss the food and obvious reasons you should visit. It’s true, Walk-On’s Bistreaux and Bar, first built in the shadow of Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge by two walk-ons to LSU’s basketball team, was named the nation’s best sports bar by ESPN. And, having Saints quarterback Drew Brees as a co-owner further adds to the sports mystique of the fast-growing brand. But, if you let the misconception that Walk-On’s is a rowdy sports bar with little to eat besides wings and nachos stop you from visiting, you’ll be missing out on a delicious, creatively-prepared meal that is so far removed from typical sports bar food that you’ll almost forget the name.
Walk-On’s is currently only open in Hattiesburg but will soon expand through franchisees into Jackson, Flowood, Oxford, Southaven, and the Gulf Coast.
After meeting a friend for dinner at the Hattiesburg location, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that while numerous televisions and sports memorabilia are spread throughout the sprawling restaurant, there are spaces in which you can dine and feel like you’re in a semi-private space where actual conversation can take place. Of course, the bar area is lively, but bypassing it and heading to a comfortable booth lends itself to a calm, enjoyable meal.
After reviewing the long lineup of delicious-sounding appetizers, we decided to order two and share them. Our choices were Boom Boom Shrimp, fried shrimp tossed in tangy sauce and topped with green onions; and baked spinach and artichoke dip. Unlike some sports bar food that tastes like it has been recently defrosted before being coated in heavy sauce and deep-fried, our selections were light, tasty, and creatively presented.
Other starters (with a creative side note that the owners “were not starters,” thus an ode to their walk-on status), include Cajun and loaded queseaux (or more commonly known queso), fried alligator, boudin balls, cheeseburger sliders, devils on horseback, fried pickles, fries, and mozzarella. If you’re noticing a common theme, you’d be correct in thinking the menu is Cajun-centric, inspired by the owners’ Louisiana roots and desire to share its cuisine (and affinity for replacing the letter “O” with “eaux” with the entire country).
As a result, duck and andouille gumbo, shrimp and corn soup, and crawfish étouffée more than satisfy those looking for gumbo and soups. Other offerings are Meme’s chili and a soup and salad combo.
Speaking of salads, there are plenty of opportunities to eat light while enjoying a taste of Cajun country. Salad selections include crawfish BLT, Zydeco, pepper jelly shrimp, Ahi tuna, and a variety of chicken-based offerings. Also on the lighter side are creative wraps filled with grilled shrimp, Buffalo chicken, California club, and cheeseburger ingredients, among others.
It’s never a bad idea to try one of the house specialties, as my friend soon learned. An order of pasta alfredeaux (again, there’s that Cajun twist on the name) resulted in a sumptuous plate of blackened chicken, linguine, alfredeaux sauce, Parmesan, and garlic bread being placed on the table. I almost regretted my dinner selection after seeing the overflowing plate filled with some of my favorite ingredients. If desired, blackened jumbo gulf shrimp can be substituted for chicken.
Other house specialties include Cajundillas, a regional spin on quesadillas filled with sausage, boudin, chicken and chipotle ranch; 12-ounce Cajun ribeye topped with crawfish mushroom sauce; blackened redfish served with sweet corn grits and beurre blanc sauce; grilled chicken; Uncle B’s hand-battered chicken tenderloins; and Tuscan chicken, a feast of blackened chicken, tomato basil sauce and vegetables.
As intriguing as the house specialties appeared, as usual, I was drawn to the seafood section. I wasn’t disappointed by my selection of voodoo shrimp. Sitting atop a serving of some of the best corn grits I’ve ever tasted was a mound of jumbo shrimp stuffed with cream cheese, and pickled jalapeños, then wrapped in thick bacon and baked to a crispy goodness. A side of sweet chili glaze and garlic bread created a near-perfect meal. I mean, what could be better than shrimp, cream cheese and bacon? If there is a better combo, I have yet to discover it.
Additional seafood offerings come with accompanying sides or sauces and bread and include bayou pasta topped with crawfish, cream sauce and fried shrimp; crawfish “etou-ways,” a creative name for étouffée filled with fried shrimp; catfish Atchatalaya filled with blackened or fried fish, crawfish étouffée, and fried crawfish; sweet chili salmon topped with the same delicious glaze I sampled in my dish; Mardi Gras mahi, a delightful combination of blackened fish and crawfish mushroom sauce; fried jumbo shrimp and catfish and Louisiana combo, which offers fried shrimp, fried catfish with crawfish étouffee, and sides.
Seafood po’boys further carry on the Cajun theme, with selections like boom boom shrimp, catfish, gator, crawfish, and fried shrimp.Walk-On’s serves up a variety of mammoth burgers to please everyone.
Selections include the quarter-pound scholarship; smaller classic; surf and turf burger topped with shrimp; hickory dressed with barbecue sauce and bacon; hangover topped with egg, bacon, and cheese; stuffed variety filled with bacon and cheese; jalapeño jack; smoked gouda turkey; and veggie burger made of black beans and topped with healthy vegetables and light dressings.
Handhelds, or sandwiches and tacos, range from warm turkey and Swiss to ribeye po’boy to blackened redfish tacos. Sides include the aforementioned sweet corn grits, stuffed potato, sweet potato fries, red beans, vegetables, and fruit.
Walk-On’s serves tasty desserts that include beignets, Krispy Kreme bread pudding, milkshakes, and cookie sundaes.
Walk-On’s is located at 4400 Hardy St. in Hattiesburg. Hours are Sunday – Thursday, 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. and open until 12 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Check out the company’s website at www.walk-ons.com to learn about upcoming restaurant openings around the state.