Talk about sleepers. Every weekday noon, bargain takeout lunches that would do credit to a Lafayette home kitchen can be had in the warehouse limbo northwest of Loop 610 and the Katy Freeway.
From a tiny storefront just off North Post Oak, Louisiana Foods -- the seafood wholesaler run by Jim Gossen and Jody Larriviere, partners in the Magnolia Grill and the late Don's -- serves up a changing slate of blue-plate specials. It's the kind of food that the pair grew up on. Tuesdays yield a funky Cajun pork-and-beef meat loaf seething with garlic, onion and pepper; frosted with retrograde whipped potatoes and brown gravy, anchored by a chewy browned crust, it could seduce even a confirmed food snob.
Most days there are a couple of major-league gumbos in the thin, authentic swampwater style: a murky witches' brew packed with tender shrimp, or a richly smoky chicken-and-andouille-sausage version. These are not denatured gumbos; they'll light up your mouth.
So will the afterburn produced by a mess of chilled boiled shrimp in their shells. For five bucks, which includes the requisite Saltines and a good red cocktail sauce, they make a gratifyingly self-indulgent lunch. Or, for that matter, an instant metaphysical trip to the beach. The cayenne-and-garlic-spiked crab boil that gives them their spunk is available for purchase -- as is Cajun Power, my new favorite bottled hot sauce, which is bright with vinegar and fresh garlic.
Even homey baked chicken acquires a little Southwest Louisiana strut here, plus an escort of earthy dirty-rice dressing and maybe a guilty-pleasure "vegetable" like sweet baked beans. I can't think of a day that wouldn't be improved by one of these lunches, and at under five bucks, they're one of the best deals in town.
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Foodies who venture in will be pleased to see Waylon Whipple -- proprietor of the late, great Mr. Whipple's Oyster Bar and member of Cook's Frying Hall of Fame -- presiding over Louisiana Foods' lunch biz. You can pick up some positive culinary karma just by standing next to the guy who made the best steamed shrimp this city has ever seen. He serves lunch from 11 a.m. until he runs out -- which he does, so step lively.
-- Alison Cook
Louisiana Foods, 4410 West 12th St., 957-3476.
cajun meat loaf, $4.60;
gumbo, a pint, $3.75;
cold boiled shrimp, $4.95.