This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus® issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape.
Earlier in the week, I interviewed bartender and Louisiana native Sheridan Fay about Mardi Gras drinks and her favorite traditions. She told me that though she wouldn't be able to get home for the celebrations this year, she would mark the day by indulging at The Cajun Stop.
I mentioned the owner of The Cajun Stop in the article, writing her name as Lisa "Carney."
The next day I got a special delivery from The Cajun Stop, along with a business card with the name circled: Lisa Carnley.
Carnley, not Carney, as in the creepy people who work carnivals.
I was embarrassed, and I immediately fixed the misspelling, but fortunately CarnLey had a great sense of humor about the whole thing. She wanted to make sure I never misspelled her name again, so she sent me something to help me remember. She sent over her delicious fried catfish topped with a Cajun crawfish tail cream sauce, hoping that it would have an impact on my memory.
Oh, has it ever.
I've had the remainder of my 100 favorite dishes planned out for some time now, but as soon as I tasted Carnley's dish -- usually a Friday special -- I knew it had to be included.
First, the catfish. It's a good-size fillet that's been lightly breaded in a thin but crunchy coating that's simple enough to enhance the flavor of the catfish while not taking away from the delicate seafood. Somehow, even under a thick blanket of cream sauce, it manages to stay fairly crisp all the way to the last bite.
The crawfish tail cream sauce really is the pièce de résistance in the dish, though. It's similar to an étouffée in that it also seems to make use of the holy trinity, a.k.a. mirepoix with onions, celery and bell peppers, as well as similar Cajun spices to get your heart rate up and your forehead perspiring. Unlike étouffée, there's a heavy dose of cream in this crawfish sauce, making it a little more rich and a little less ruddy than its Cajun cousin.
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And then, of course, there are the crawfish tails, too numerous to count, dotting the plate with flecks of scarlet here and there. Crawfish season is finally in full swing, and the mudbugs Carnley is getting in at The Cajun Stop are about as big as I've ever seen them. The tails are juicy and flavorful and add a great salty shellfish bite to the dish.
The catfish and crawfish are served over a bed of white rice, which is necessary to quell the heat a bit after a few good bites. Of course, had I been eating the dish at the restaurant, I would have paired it with a daiquiri, but that sort of thing doesn't usually go over well in the office.
See the full list of favorites on the next page.
The list so far: No. 21: Foie Gras Crème Caramel at Just Dinner No. 22: Roasted Pear Salad at Backstreet Cafe No. 23: Fluffernutters at Fluff Bake Bar No. 24: Som Tam at Vieng Thai No. 25: Chips and Queso at Fusion Taco No. 26: Spicy Miso Ramen at Soma Sushi No. 27: Kim Cheese Fries at Coreanos No. 28: Fried Cauliflower at Roost No. 29: Caesar Wedge Salad at Provisions No. 30: Ice Cream in a Waffle Cone at Fat Cat Creamery No. 31: Cochito con Mole Xico at Hugo's No. 32: Carnitas at Molina's Cantina No. 33: Taleggio Pizza at Dolce Vita No. 34: Chiles de Padron Asados at Caracol No. 35: Morning Thali at Pondicheri No. 36: Fried Mini Fish at House of Bowls No. 37: Trompo Tacos at Taqueria La Macro No. 38: Spicy Tamale Plate at La Mexicana No. 39: Mum's Chicken Curry At The Queen Vic Pub No. 40: Canestri alla Funghi at Paulie's No. 41: Biscuit with Marmalade and Crème Fraîche at Blacksmith No. 42: Fried Oyster Po'Boy at Goode Company Seafood No. 43: Roasted Duck Red Curry at Morningside Thai No. 44: BBQ Pulled Wild Boar Sandwich at Sammy's Wild Game Grill No. 45: Guanciale Burger at Plonk No. 46: Parma 600 Pizza at Pizzeria Solario No. 47: CFC Deviled Eggs at Liberty Kitchen & Oyster Bar No. 48: The El Real Burger at El Real Tex-Mex Cafe No. 49: Custard Sandwich at Petite Sweets No. 50: Black Pepper Beer Lobster at Hai Cang Seafood Restaurant No. 51: Red Dragon Roll at Michiru Sushi No. 52: Fried Bananas Foster at Custom Confections No. 53: Bánh Canh Hue at Simply Pho No. 54: Kimchi Koagie at Koagie Hots No. 55: The Juicy Lucy Burger at Lowbrow No. 56: Eggplant Fries at Batanga No. 57: Macarons at Ganache Dessert Bar No. 58: Grilled Cheese at The Golden Grill No. 59: Baklava French Toast at Harry's Restaurant & Cafe No. 60: Patata e Funghi Pizza at Pizaro's No. 61: Old Fashioned Frito Pie at Armadillo Palace No. 62: Korean Spiced Brisket Plate at Revival Market No. 63: Bánh Mì at Les Givral's Sandwich and Cafe No. 64: Squirrel Master Burger at Cottonwood No. 65: Shorty Mac at H-Town StrEATS No. 66: Enchiladas de Mole at La Guadalupana No. 67: Bad Ass Hambur-Torta at Pistolero's No. 68: Green "Hurry Curry" at Nit Noi No. 69: Dozen Raw Oysters at Pappas Seafood No 70: Banana Split at Cloud 10 Creamery No. 71: Lazy Lane Frites at Brasserie 19 No. 72: Chicken Pot Pie at Kenny & Ziggy's No. 73: Chili Cheese Mac from Jus' Mac No. 74: Taco al Pastor at Taco Keto No. 75: 'Date With a Pig' at Sparrow Bar + Cookshop No. 76: The Heights Burger at Gratifi No. 77: Lamb Lollipops at Américas No. 78: Mortadella Sandwich at 13 Celsius No. 79: Carnissima Pizza at Coppa Osteria No. 80: The Marie Laveau Sandwich at Sandy Witch No. 81: Catfish and Grits at The Breakfast Klub No. 82: Grilled Ahi Tuna at St. John's Fire No. 83: Lobster Roll at Maine-ly Sandwiches No. 84: Greek Burger at Hubcap Grill No. 85: Pork Tamales at Irma's No. 86: Ham, Egg & Cheese Crepe at Melange Creperie No. 87: Crab Daddy Bao at Fat Bao No. 88: Sesame Soft Balls at Golden Dim Sum No. 89: Porchetta e Fagioli at Giacomo's Cibo e Vino No. 90: Uncle Daryl's Cake at The Chocolate Bar No. 91: Lobster Cake Benedict at Sorrel Urban Bistro No. 92: Homeroom at Bernie's Burger Bus No. 93: Vuelve a la Vida Soup at Connie's Seafood No. 94: Foie Gras Mac & Cheese at BRC Gastropub No. 95: Sweet Potato Gnocchi at Brooklyn Athletic Club No. 96: Chicken and Waffles at Adair Kitchen No. 97: Soft Pretzel from Mongoose Versus Cobra No. 98: Bulgogi Tacos with Kimchi at Chi'Lantro No. 99: Almond Croissant at Phoenicia No. 100: Bangkok Fries at Boheme