Oyster & Okra Gumbo at Cajun Town Cafe

On the way back from the horse track on Saturday night, I took an unusual route home (okay, I was out of change for the tollway). And that alternate route landed me heading south toward 290 on North Houston Rosslyn, past a mostly unfamiliar part of town. And as I drove, I realized I was hungry.

At a stoplight where North Houston Rosslyn turns into Bingle, I turned my head and saw a tiny red awning next to a yawningly large Food Town on West Little York: Cajun Town Cafe. It seemed as good a place as any to stop, I figured. And how badly can you screw up a po-boy?

I never got to find out the answer to that question, because the shrimp po-boy that Cajun Town Cafe turned out ,along with a cup of seafood gumbo that blew my socks off, was almost too good for words.

Cajun Town Cafe has a sister restaurant in Greenspoint, and from what I can glean from online reviews, it's not nearly as popular. Customers cited poor service as their main complaint, something I didn't notice at the West Little York location. In fact, I found the service beyond accommodating: Even though this is a counter-service place, an employee came around checking on each table, including mine, during dinner.

I even marveled at the cloth napkins that were delivered along with our food. They smelled hand-washed. I hate to admit it, but I have a sweet spot that's very easily manipulated by intensely personal touches like this. Other sweet spots: restaurants that are off the beaten path, restaurants whose employees smile at you genuinely, restaurants that are serving authentic, delicious food for approachable prices. Cajun Town Cafe had me rolled over on my back, belly showing.

Metaphorically speaking, that is. It's hard to eat gumbo on your back.

A dark roux in combination with a net full of seafood -- oysters, crawfish, shrimp, crab -- along with some fat nubs of okra had me over the moon at Cajun Town Cafe's gumbo. As with the creamy, corn-studded bisque that I also indulged in, you could tell the fat crawfish tails were fresh.

And the shrimp po-boy was exactly what I look for in a close-as-we-can-get Louisiana po-boy: crusty bread that was soft in the middle, crispy lettuce, ruby-red tomatoes (these were thick slices of Roma tomatoes that I wanted to pick out and eat on their own), a tangy tartar sauce, punchy red sauce and thick, well-battered shrimp. Even the thin, batter-coated fries were excellent.

Cajun Town won't win points on aesthetics any time soon, but no one in the packed but dimly lit dining room seemed to be complaining. And if the lack of decor means that I can get better food for far less than what I'd pay at Pappadeaux just down the street at 290 and Hollister, I'm happy to take it any day.

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Katharine Shilcutt