Searching for a neighborhood joint where I could eat some mudbugs, since they're in season, I called Beaucoup Bar & Grill (3102 Old Spanish Trail, 713-747-5100) to see if they were holding. The sweet, friendly voice on the phone informed me that Beaucoup does crawfish boils on the weekends sometimes, but today was "free gumbo day." Free gumbo? I'm on my way...
I met up with some friends for a late lunch and some drinks. As we walked through the double doors, I felt like I'd just walked into a private club. The booths and tables are all neatly arranged inside a room that is painted black and dark red. There's a small counter that looks like a bar you'd find in a nightclub. You order at the counter and take a number to your table.
We ordered a few cocktails, a homemade lemonade and some beers, along with an assortment of eye-catching items from the menu. So far, nothing was impressive about this place, and the atmosphere seemed slightly amusing. There were a handful of diners scattered around the room eating out of Styrofoam to-go containers. Our complimentary gumbo arrived in small Styrofoam cups. Beaucoup is still new, and I guess they don't have spoons yet. We had to eat our gumbo with forks.
Like with barbecue and chili, people love to debate whether a gumbo is authentic or not. I have tried lots of different kinds of gumbo — some thin, some thick; with okra or, God forbid, without; with chicken and shrimp and andouille. Gumbo is to parts of Texas and Louisiana what bouillabaisse is to France. A difference of opinion about roux could start a barroom brawl. I am sure someone is getting into a fistfight over it right now.
I like mine a little thick, with a slow-cooked red roux and lots of meat. Okra or no okra is fine. Then again, I like chili with beans (just kidding). I thought Beaucoup's gumbo, with crawfish, shrimp and beef-and-chicken sausage, rocked. It was just how I like it, and my lunch mates agreed. After I scooped all the rice and meat out of the broth, I slurped the rest out of the cup. Heat from the spices burned the back of my throat a little.
Among the three of us sitting at the table, we split several dishes. The crawfish bread came out first, looking like a crazy French bread pizza. A loaf of French bread was cut in half and smothered in sautéed crawfish meat and cheese. It was buttery and gooey and one of those comfort food dishes that you beg your mom to make every time you visit. I would come here just for that dish. We hacked at it like hungry alligators till the wings and fried burger arrived.
Different members of the staff kept randomly coming by our table and asking how everything was. It was more of a rhetorical question. They know everything is good, especially that crawfish bread. You'd have to be allergic to shellfish not to enjoy it. Even then, you might just chew a handful of Benadryl and go for it.
My friend Jeff Boudreaux, who is from Louisiana and claims never to have been past the Mason-Dixon line, is an amazing chef and a self-proclaimed authority on Cajun dishes. He's also a purist when it comes to po-boys: They should consist of a French baguette, pickles, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise with seafood or meat inside. That's it. And this is exactly what Beaucoup does with its po-boy, which was an instant hit with everybody at the table. The shrimp were crunchy, and the bread was extra-soft. I think it might have been one of the best po-boys I've ever had.
If I see a deep-fried burger on the menu somewhere, you know I am going to order it. Our server set the fried beef patty with cheese in front of us, and it was a ferocious mound of love. Something so indulgent is almost taboo. It's like staring at your best friend's girlfriend's boobs — so wrong, but you can't help it. You have to do it. The deep-fried burger was excellent.
Beaucoup was on a roll, and it didn't stop there. The chicken wings were high-quality. I ordered 15, half battered and the other half with Beaucoup seasoning, a sort of dry rub that's not spicy. I asked for some hot sauce, and when the little unmarked ramekin came to the table we played the old "guess the brand" game. Someone said Frank's, but I was guessing something hotter, like Crystal's or Cajun Chef.
When I asked the server what brand it was, he replied, "We make it here with various spices and things." I was starting to notice a trend — everything at Beaucoup is made in-house, including the lemonade. This is how it should be. When all restaurants do is open up a bag of frozen "product," deep-fry it in another product and serve it with a side of prefab product sauce, it shows. In fact, it blows. When the server told me the hot sauce was homemade, I was impressed. It is one thing to bread and fry your own chicken tenders — it's a whole new level of passion to make your own hot sauce that's actually as tasty as or tastier than Tabasco.
I have a pretty good idea that when Beaucoup decides to do crawfish, it's done right. You can bet I'll be trying to confirm this in the weeks to come.
My next visit to Beaucoup was for a late supper. I brought a chef co-worker, and we ordered a couple of Red Stripes. We waited for our dinner entrées and some more wings while listening to the likes of Al Green and Otis Redding on the restaurant's sound system. There were still plenty of people eating and taking food to go even thought it was close to closing time.
We ordered our wings naked this time so we could pour the house-made hot sauce on them. They were fresh, cooked perfectly and cheap. I love this place. I love fried chicken wings. The seasoned fries were really good too. I thought about asking the servers if they dust the fries with Tony Chachere's Cajun Seasoning, but then I thought better. I knew the answer to this one. House blend.
Eating at this restaurant made me wish I had a spare stomach. I wanted to try the red beans and rice, the homemade onion rings and especially the cheese fries. But I'd been craving fried catfish for some time — I was having dreams about it. When fresh catfish is fried right, that crispy corn meal crust with tender juicy flakes on the inside is a spiritual experience.
Beaucoup's fried catfish basket was beyond perfect. The person who made that catfish is a fry god or, at least, someone who has been cooking comfort food for the last hundred years. It satisfied my craving and advanced my fried catfish addiction to a new level. I will think twice before I stand in line at the Breakfast Klub, that's for sure.
My co-worker got the open-faced pot roast sandwich on jalapeño cheese bread with caramelized onions. "This roast beef is solid," he said. Coming from this guy, who is not easily impressed, that meant it was pretty damn good. And I had to agree — it was solid. It was one of those sandwiches you keep eating even though you're totally full.
On both visits to Beaucoup, my dining companions and I came here craving meat and seafood. But the place has plenty of vegetarian offerings. If it weren't for the deep-fried burger, we might have ordered the black bean burger with sprouts and avocado. There was also a Boca Philly and a Boca burger. Of course, in my opinion, the pot roast sandwich will make a meat eater out of any veg head.
Cajun food, Creole food, Southern or comfort food: Whatever you call
it, the ass-kicking po-boys and fried catfish at Beaucoup are scrumptious.
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