I am often entertained by the OTL-versus-ITL debate, just as I enjoy the Houston vs. Austin dustups that crop up from time to time.
I spend a majority of my time inside the Loop. The reasons are purely practical: My husband and I share a car and have a high-maintenance 12-year-old dog who limits our mobility, so we tend to stick close to home when we have leisure time. To be honest, I'm dying to try more stuff outside the Loop.
When a friend of mine called to say he would be moving to Houston and wanted to meet for dinner near his hotel in Stafford, I felt like I was driving to Mars. What an adventure! He suggested the Ragin Cajun, a place he enjoyed on a previous visit, and so we headed out on a Monday night for dinner.
I let my visiting pal take the lead when ordering, since he'd been there before and seemed enthusiastic about the food and atmosphere. We sat at the bar (mistake No. 1) rather than in the dining room, and quickly ordered up some drinks. Phil had flown in from Syracuse, where snow -- yes, snow in April -- had caused him to miss his flight, so he was ready to booze a little. We were there about 30 minutes before even glancing at the menu (mistake #2).
We decided to hit the appetizer menu in two rounds, and then re-evaluate to see if we were still hungry. We started with a dozen oysters on the half-shell ($10.99), boudin balls (5 for $5.99) and Louisiana fried crawfish tails (a quarter pound for $9.99). The fresh oysters were good -- maybe not as large or flavorful as others I've had this year, but they were very clean (absolutely no grit) and a good value for $10.99. I can't say I'm a huge boudin ball fan, and I found these a little on the chalky side, but the flavor was okay and they were spicy enough to be somewhat interesting, but let's face it -- most fried stuff tastes good. I was curious as to why the boudin balls came with regular old yellow mustard -- is that a thing? Like, that's what they usually come with? The mustard did more masking than enhancing of the flavor of the boudin balls, but I'm not sure that's really a negative.
When it comes to the crawfish tails, I'll say this: I haven't started liking boiled crawfish yet, so these were fine. If you had told me they were tiny, fried shrimp, I would have believed you. See: "most fried stuff tastes good." I ate my fair share, but trust me when I tell you I was hungry for more food. Maybe a po'boy or something ...
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Except at 9:30 p.m. on Monday night, the kitchen had closed. When we put in our order, the bartender took it and came back five minutes later to say that unbeknownst to him, they'd shut the kitchen down for the night. I looked it up on the Ragin Cajun Web site, and the kitchen does indeed close at 9 p.m., but for whatever reason the bartender didn't seem to know that -- he was quite surprised. I'm not ragging on the guy. He was nice and genuinely sorry, and he went the extra mile to grab us some boiled spicy shrimp ($10.99 per dozen) to make up for it. They were, unfortunately, completely hideous -- rubbery, peel-it-yourself shrimp that were definitely "spiced" but hardly "spicy," if you know what I mean. I choked down one and left the rest to the guys, who were starving.
It was a long way to drive for extremely mediocre food, so luckily quality time with a friend I hadn't seen in more than five years took the edge off. That said, when I got my friend's text the next night -- "Pappadeaux was good, thanks for the suggestion" -- I was kind of kicking myself.