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Floyd and Pseudo-Floyd
The sign said Floyd's on Shepherd, but what I walked into was a parallel universe where everything was a bubble out of plumb.

In this northwest-of-downtown neighborhood -- in all of Houston, likely -- the name Floyd has meant reliable Louisiana cooking and rowdy crowds since the early '90s, when Floyd Landry opened his Floyd's Cajun Shack on Durham. At the site of the former Richard Head's, this latest Floyd's is only a few blocks away from the Shack, which closed last fall. Besides the name, the new place has a lot of the same staff and a similar menu. That, I soon found, is where the similarities stop.

No one was talking. The staff was deadpan, diffident, almost sullen. ("Good, it'll give me something to do," the bartender responded to our request for a beer.)

Our cups of crawfish bisque and gumbo looked so similar that the waitress couldn't tell them apart. The bisque had strangely earthy seasonings; the watery gumbo teemed with shrimp too far past fresh.

Entrees didn't increase the comfort level. The crawfish, both fried and etouffee, were mushy. The clincher was the fried stuffed shrimp. The breading was fine and the stuffings were tasty, but the shrimp at the core smelled as off-putting as those in the gumbo. Could a batch have gone bad? The waitress said she's ask the kitchen. Easily ten minutes later, she returned with the bill -- minus the shrimp, without apology or explanation.

Where was Floyd? Not on Shepherd; on Chimney Rock. While redoing his former digs on Durham, Floyd Landry has been serving his recipes under the name Floyd's Cajun Kitchen, which is attached to a rustic Galleria-area bar called Woodrow's.

A follow-up expedition was in order. My dining companion and I headed to Chimney Rock for the same meal we'd left scarcely touched on Shepherd. Again, the gumbo and bisque were barely distinguishable at a glance. The seafood was fresh, though, and the seasonings were coherent and cohesive in every dish we had. The place was abuzz with talking, smiling customers and staff. Life was good.

And, sure 'nuff, before we left, Floyd himself showed up. He's putting the finishing touches on the old Cajun Shack (which he has also elevated to the rank of Cajun Kitchen, in honor of major gussying up). A quiet opening is in the works, targeted for the weekend of the 23rd; he's planning to keep the Chimney Rock kitchen open as well.

-- Kathy Biehl

Floyd's on Shepherd, 1511 Shepherd, 861-EATS. Floyd's Cajun Kitchen at Woodrow's, 3111 Chimney Rock, 784-2653. Floyd's Cajun Kitchen, 1200 Durham.

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