When Samantha and Jason Cantrell assumed ownership of Ward’s Crawfish Hole in July of 2023, it was already a hidden gem in the Hot Springs dining scene.
The Cantrells operated a food truck for a few years, but Jason had always wanted a restaurant. So, when they learned the establishment was for sale, the deal was done. The couple worked with previous owners — John and Dani Ward, who operated the restaurant for about 10 years — for a bit to get acclimated.
The location was a store when it opened in 2005, with an outdoor patio where crawfish was served during the season. Eventually, the patio was enclosed when the restaurant achieved a good following. Now, the new owners have remodeled the former store into a lounge with additional restaurant seating. Why are they expanding? Because people continue to discover the secret eatery that is just a bit off the beaten path. Plus, the Cantrells are adding items to the menu, including Chargrilled Oysters, Yellowfin Tuna, Crawfish Chowder and more.
Have you ever had Crawfish Chowder? Run to Ward’s Crawfish Hole, and order a bowl. The chowder provides warm comfort with a hint of Cajun flavor in every bite. I ate the whole bowl, enjoying the large number of crawfish.
Oysters are a specialty at Ward’s Crawfish Hole. I was treated to a platter of delicious Chargrilled Oysters. Fried oysters are also offered.
The Southern Fried Alligator Bites are not the frozen variety. These babies are fresh and hand-breaded by the team at Ward’s. The result is gator bites that are top-shelf. They are served with fresh-cut fries dusted with a bit of spice and served with a side of ranch dressing. This could be a meal, but you will want to order more off the menu.
To try several items, I recommend the Cajun Dinner. Ayyyeeeeeee! This platter of Cajun goodness includes boiled crab leg clusters, Cajun-boiled Gulf shrimp, corn, potatoes and plenty of butter. Jason added a Cajun Smoked Sausage and a Spicy Louisiana Boudin to my platter. The crab legs were so perfect and nicely seasoned, I skipped the melted butter for dipping. The delicate, sweet pieces of shellfish simply melted in my mouth. The boudin was excellent as was the smoked sausage.
The Ward’s daughter, Amber, was working in the kitchen during my visit. She prepared me a serving of Southern Style Shrimp and Cheese Grits. She is both a chef and artist, as the dish was as attractive as it was flavorful. The dish features creamy cheese grits surrounded by a good amount of grilled shrimp, attractively arranged on a large platter.
My eyes widened with delight as I was served a 14-ounce cut of Roasted Prime Rib of Beef, accompanied by superbly spiced boiled potatoes (or a baked potato), a house salad and a dinner roll. I loved it.
The New Orleans Bread Pudding with vanilla sauce is a great way to complete your meal. The Cantrells have also introduced a dessert of the week — peanut butter pie when I visited. A variety of fried pies also will tickle your taste buds.
It wasn’t crawfish season during my visit, but as a reminder, the season is typically January through July, depending on the weather. Since crawfish is in the restaurant’s name, you can bet your boots that the boiled crawfish at Ward’s Crawfish Hole is top-notch.
Dining recommendations? Contact Rob Roedel at email@example.com.