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Cajunese Cuisine?

Super Steak & More takes a stroll through Louisiana, via Vietnam

The surprise about Super Steak & More is exactly how much "more" there is. This small charmer of a cafe, nestled next to Becks Prime and across from an increasingly comatose Hard Rock Cafe on Kirby Drive, does indeed favor steaks and burgers, but the rest of its menu is far more intriguing. How intriguing? How about Vietnamese imperial and summer rolls? Or a chili dog? Fried quail? Crawfish étouffée?

In fact, I was so taken with Super Steak's "and more" enticements that I never got around to the meatier part of its menu, which colleagues tell me the tiny restaurant (only four tables!) does exceedingly well. Normally I'd be extremely skeptical of any eatery that serves both a Philadelphia cheese steak sandwich and duck $agrave; l'orange, but owners Joe and Tanya Ng have made a believer out of me.

I may be proven wrong on this, but I think the owners, with some of their better dishes, have created a whole new fusion. Credit Joe Ng, who spent several years in Louisiana learning Cajun techniques and has since combined those lessons with his background in Vietnamese cooking to createŠ well, Cajanese cuisine? Vietjun? Whatever you call it, it's wonderful.

Amy Spangler
Joe and Tanya Ng share a culinary vision wide enough to include both a Philly cheese steak and duck ŗ lŗorange.

The imperial rolls ($3.95 for six pieces) are a good place to start. They're traditional Vietnamese egg rolls, fried crisp and delicious, but they're seasoned with Louisiana spices -- thyme, garlic, sage and cayenne -- for a mouthwatering surprise. On the other hand, the summer rolls ($3.95 for two) are pure unadulterated Vietnamese. Breathtakingly fresh rice paper wraps around large chunks of flavorful chicken, thin rice noodles and whatnot; these sculptured works of art are then served with an incredibly light and delicious peanut dipping sauce. I hate to overstate my case, but these are probably the best summer rolls I've ever had.

For a heartier appetizer (or light meal), I'd suggest the gumbo, either seafood ($4.99 cup/$6.95 bowl) or chicken ($3.25 cup/$4.55 bowl). Both were delicious, but the chicken, chockablock with pieces of tender bird and veggies, was my favorite. The spicing was definitely not shy, yet it somehow still had a delicacy reminiscent of the gumbo I used to get at Middendorf's, a legendary catfish place in the swamps about a half an hour outside New Orleans.

Along the same lines, I thoroughly enjoyed the crawfish étouffée ($6.99 at lunch, $11.95 for the larger dinner portion). Loaded with plump crawfish tails and dripping with a sauce tinted orange from spices and fat, the étouffée is served on a bed of fluffy white steamed rice, all the better to soak up every delicious drop. It was genuine Cajun, through and through, yet lighter and more balanced than most.

Also wonderful were the shrimp scampi ($12.99 a half-dozen, $16.99 a dozen). The shrimp were not the largest I've ever seen, so you'll probably want to order the full dozen, but the sauce alone, light and buttery and garlicky with a hint of cilantro, was worth the price. It was the perfect complement to those slightly sweet yellow dinner rolls served by the basket with all meals.

The best of the regular menu entrées I tried was the Cajun fried cornish hen ($7.99 half, $10.95 whole). The hens are seasoned with a special spice mix, fried unbreaded in pure vegetable oil, then sprinkled with more spice mix. They're served with a slightly sweet Asian barbecue sauce on the side. It was the best of both worlds, Cajun and Asian, each complementing the other the way fusion cuisine should.

All entrées are served with your choice of side dishes, such as fresh steamed spinach or green beans or real mashed potatoes and gravy, but the best I sampled was the sautéed mushrooms. They are doused with "secret sauce" and are a great accompaniment to any entrée or on top of a cheese steak or even on a pizza (yes, Super Steak serves pizza!).

The Cajun rice side dish ($3.75 for 16 ounces) was also a head-turner. Moist rice, chopped meat, liver and a kaleidoscope of spices combined to make an incredibly flavorful, unbelievably lush dish that was so good that once it hit the table, it quickly disappeared in a flurry of dueling forks. Don't miss this one.

Next to the cash register is a menu of items that the Ngs will do for catering or special occasions (a large chunk of their business is takeout and delivery). Listed among the various meats and such is roast duck. Give them 24 hours' notice, and Super Steak & More will serve you what I'm willing to state is the absolute best duck $agrave; l'orange ($30 for a whole duck with two side dishes) I have ever eaten. Not sticky and gooey and nasty like you might imagine, the bird is marinated in fresh orange juice and Asian spices (ginger? coriander?) then roasted until the skin is a beautiful golden-brown, the meat still moist and juicy and incredibly ducky. It's served with a lovely unsweet, unsticky, beautifully seasoned orange sauce.

The desserts tend to favor the meat and potatoes side of Super Steak's menu: homemade apple, cherry and peach pies, chocolate cake and New York Cheesecake ($2.55 a slice). But they're all good, even after crawfish étouffée. So what more do you need to know here? It's a cute little restaurant, run by a charming family, with a wide range of delicious food served at reasonable prices. What are you waiting for?

Super Steak & More, 2826 Kirby Drive, (713)523-3200.

 
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