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Café Orleans Express

This hard-to-find sandwich stand is a little slice of NOLA on the Katy Freeway

In four visits to Café Orleans, I fell in love with the juicy fried oysters and big fried Gulf shrimp — on overstuffed and perfectly dressed poor boy sandwiches and over a huge pile of French fries on a seafood platter.

At first I thought the French fries were hand-cut, since they have bits of potato skin attached. But while observing Justin and Michael's technique, I noticed that the fries came from a freezer bag. The fries taste pretty good, for frozen. And the restaurant certainly doesn't skimp on them. I never could eat them all.

The hamburger poor boy is made from a half-pound frozen oval patty of ground meat. It's cooked on the griddle and sprinkled generously with an orange powder from a shaker bottle. Five bucks says its Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning.

Sublime: the oyster poor boy and the gumbo
Troy Fields
Sublime: the oyster poor boy and the gumbo

Details

Hours:11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays; noon to 9 p.m. Sundays.

Oyster poor boy: $8

Shrimp poor boy: $8

Cheeseburger poor boy: $6.89

Creole Gumbo: $6.89

Red beans and rice: $5.49

11611 Katy Freeway, 832-379-8000.

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When it's done, the burger patty is cut in two, and the halves are set side by side on a poor boy roll with grilled onions and lettuce, tomato, mayo and pickles. I got the cheeseburger poor boy with Swiss, and I was pretty happy with it. If they used a hand-formed, never-frozen patty, it would have been stellar.

The Creole-sausage poor boy was disappointing. There wasn't enough meat for the size of the roll, and the sausage, which was split in half lengthwise, was all dried out. I suspect it had been microwaved. The muffuletta was similarly out of whack. There was a generous amount of meat and cheese on the mediocre round bun, but not nearly enough olive salad to moisten it. The red beans and rice were nothing special either.

But don't miss the sublimely spiced New Orleans-style gumbo, which contains a "kitchen sink" mixture of sausage, chicken and jumbo shrimp in a dark roux. Bottles of filé powder are lined up beside the pepper sauces for doctoring your gumbo at the table.

How long Café Orleans Express can keep up the quality of their outrageous gumbo and overstuffed shrimp and oyster poor boys is anybody's guess. Which is why I recommend you stop by sooner rather than later.

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