For Houston drivers headed east on I-10 towards Beaumont and Louisiana, the small town of Winnie, Texas is not much more than the usual collection of truck stops, McDonald's and Super 8 motels that mark such highway oases.
But just as I-10 bends north towards Beaumont, if you look to the south you'll see a parking lot that's usually filled with pickup trucks in front of an unassuming building. Perched on top of the building's metal roof are neon letters beckoning the weary traveler to the rich rewards inside.
I've been going to Al-T's Seafood and Steakhouse for at least 15 years. Being a native of Southeast Texas, I like to think I've gained some expertise in the area of Cajun cooking, and Al-T's makes some of the tastiest Tex-Cajun food this side of the Sabine River.
And one of their signature dishes doesn't even involve seafood. The chicken & sausage gumbo is the best I've ever had.
This filé style (no okra), dark roux gumbo is a milk chocolate colored soup with the requisite thin sheen of fat coating the top. Generous chunks of chicken and plump sausage peek above the surface like the tips of icebergs in a dirty Cajun ocean.
And the flavor is not for the culinarily squeamish. Your palate is assaulted by the aggressively seasoned and spiced liquid. The chicken and sausage, simmered for what must be hours, literally fall apart when touched with a spoon.
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But if you absolutely, positively must have seafood, Al-T's is also known for the fried catfish acquired from the area's freshwater lakes and streams, as well as the catfish farms in and around Winnie.
Just an hour outside of Houston, Al-T's is a great stop for lunch if you're headed for Louisiana. And if your visit to Louisiana will involve Cajun culinary adventures, as it most assuredly will, Al-T's will offer an authentic foretaste of what's to come.
Al-T's Seafood and Steakhouse
244 Spur 5
Winnie, Texas 77665