Lisa Carnley recently moved to Houston, where she's serving authentic poor boys, gumbo and red beans and rice at her new place, Calliope's Po-Boy (2130 Jefferson, 713-222-8333). "Our family is from New Orleans, and after Hurricane Katrina, we decided to move to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and open a poor boy shop there," she says. "But we needed a change of scenery, and so we recently moved to Houston. I prefer a larger city, and I just love it."
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She decided to call it Calliope after the street in New Orleans. "We felt that 'Bourbon Street' was played out," she says. "We're using our family recipes, which we have adapted for Houstonians — not so greasy, not so salty, with more salads, and we've also had to decrease the spice level a little bit."
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When Dish tried the gumbo, we found a nice heat level, but more spice would be welcome. The catfish poor boy was exquisite. Why? "The bread is authentic poor boy bread, just like in New Orleans," says Carnley. "It took us forever to find it here in Houston, and we have a bakery make it specially for us." No wonder it's so good.
Calliope's Po-Boy isn't the only new Louisiana-style restaurant to open here in town. Brenda Estis is the proud owner of The Big Mamou (903 Studewood, 713-862-2600). "I started cooking as soon as I could reach the stovetop," she says, "and I had some great teachers in my mother and my grandmother, who were both great cooks."
Estis's family is from Faraday, Louisiana, but she's been in Houston since 1974. She and her husband did most of the work themselves on the old building that houses The Big Mamou. Of the food, she says, "This is down-home Cajun cooking. I went to New Orleans to learn how to cook. We serve chicken and sausage gumbo, jambalaya, red beans and rice and poor boys. On every first Saturday of the month, we'll be serving beignets, cinnabuns and chicory coffee."
What about the name? "My husband's a real music buff, so when we were thinking about what to call the place, he said, 'How about The Big Mamou, just like the song?'" And so it is. When Dish visited, we found the gumbo to be true to the style of New Orleans, the muffaletta sandwich exceptionally good and the Natchitoches meat pies a welcome discovery.