I was dropping my teen off at a strip center gaming spot in the Copperfield area when I spotted Verna Mae's welcoming, brightly lit exterior. Having written a couple of times about its opening and King cakes here in the Houston Press, I thought I should give it a try since I had a couple of hours to kill before picking up the teen after killing imaginary robots with his friends. Accompanied by my husband, we walked into Verna Mae's hungry for some Cajun seafood.
The entry way has photos of the matriarch and namesake, Verna Mae, plus a Christmas tree that is decorated for Mardi Gras. There are plenty of tables and booths to choose from. It is counter service at Verna Mae's, something that panics the indecisive personality in me. Fortunately, there were menu pamphlets to peruse, so I sent the husband up to grab drinks while I had a look at what was on offer.
Verna Mae's had a couple of specials going for Mardi Gras, including crawfish at $5.99 per pound, with a five pound deal at $25. My husband had expressed a desire for soft shell crab, so I looked down the menu and found the seafood platter. It seemed to have every fried seafood we could want,including a soft shell crab for him. When he returned with a 20-ounce beer for me, I suggested we order the platter to split and he agreed.
I found a table facing the saxophone player who was performing that evening. Billy Kirkland is a local jazzman and if you like the smooth stylings of Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers as I do, Kirkland's saxophone and the background instrumental tracks make an enjoyable accompaniment to a Cajun meal.
My husband returned from ordering and sat down with his cup of water. For real. Who drinks water with Cajun food? Pretty soon, he was sipping on my beer, so I went back to the counter and ordered a frozen hurricane. The young man behind the counter suggested I mix the regular flavor with the orange, so that's exactly what I did. My indecisiveness makes me the queen of sampler platters and mixed flavor cocktails.
The hurricane was a tasty slushie. Verna Mae's only serves beer and wine, so I assume the hurricane was made with white wine rather than rum. No matter. For five bucks, it was a colorful, frozen treat.
Our buzzer went off and we picked up our platter at the counter. It was a heap of fried goodness. It is definitely enough food for two to three people and we took home a to-go box for a small lunch the next day. The menu lists that a side of potato salad or a green salad comes with the platter, but we weren't asked which one we wanted. Later, an employee realized we hadn't been given the side, so she brought us coleslaw, which would have been my preferred choice anyway.
We settled in with our pile of fried seafood and divvied it up. The seafood platter contains six fried oysters, six fried shrimp, two fried catfish filets, six hush puppies, two crab cakes, onion rings and a bounty of shoestring fries. It's topped with one soft shell crab, so there may be a tussle if you're not in a sharing mood. I let the husband have it, because soft shell crab doesn't ring my bell.
Apparently, Verna Mae's version didn't ring his bell, either. He said it didn't have much flavor. However, I liked the cornmeal and flour batter that coated the seafood. I do wish it had more spice, however. Verna Mae's serves the platter with a plastic ramekin of Cajun seasoning, so diners can add spice to taste.
I asked for remoulade, tartar and cocktail sauces because I am a sampling fool. The remoulade was my favorite sauce for dipping and the tartar sauce was pretty standard. The cocktail sauce needed more horseradish for my taste, but again, heat is a variable for different folks.
My husband ate all the oysters and said they were fine. They looked really plump to me. He is not as much a fan of the cornmeal coating, but I am from Louisiana and that's how most of my people fry their seafood. He's Italian, so he's used to a simpler flour coating.
The shrimp were probably the stand out, sweet and perfectly sized. The onion rings were also sweet and crispy. I liked the shoestring fries, but again, my dining companion was in a "meh" sort of mood and thought they were just okay. The hush puppies were perfectly cooked and fluffy inside. So often, they arrive at one's table overcooked on the outside and raw on the inside. Verna Mae's does hush puppies right.
For my spouse, the crab cakes were the star of the platter. They were a good size, cooked beautifully and had a lot of herbal flavor. The side of cole slaw was a little on the sweet side, but there was vinegar and mayonnaise to balance it a bit. The catfish fillets were fried well, but the fish itself was tasteless. For both of us, the catfish was a definite disappointment.
We ordered a glass of red wine to split, against our better judgment. We considered that the bottle may have been opened too long and that being located in the hot kitchen might not be ideal, but had a glass anyway. We were correct in our predictions. The cold beers on offer, many of them local, and the hurricanes are probably the best way to go.
I plan on returning to Verna Mae's for a stab at its seafood gumbo, which gets great reviews. I'd also like to try some of its off the menu items like blackened catfish or beignet bites.
It's a family-owned restaurant, so there are sometimes a few inconsistencies. The menu lists the seafood platter at $29.99, but the menu board has it at $39.99. I didn't discover it until I looked at our bill. While I realize that small businesses may have financial difficulty in reprinting menus, that could be a problem in the future.
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There is a kids menu and Stewart's Craft Sodas in flavors like ginger beer and black cherry. Verna Mae's has daily specials and and there are off the menu dishes as well. Just ask. Happy hour runs Tuesday through Friday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Wednesday is Ladies Night.
Billy Kirkland can be found with his alto and tenor saxes at least one day a week at Verna Mae's, so check ahead of time if you want to bring your cher ami for some sexy sax and spicy crawfish. You don't have to wait for next year's Mardi Gras to laissez les bon temps rouler. Let the good times roll all year long.
Verna Mae's Po-Boys, Seafood and More
16010 West Road