Restaurant Reviews

The Cajun Rages

Report #00001
New Orleans Food Police

To: Treebeard's
Market Square location
315 Travis

As a transplanted Cajun, I feel it's my duty to inspect the various Houston restaurants that claim to serve Louisiana-style food. I had high hopes for your restaurant, given its lunch crowds and a glowing review in the foodies' bible, the Zagat Guide ("Truly the best Cajun food this side of Lafayette," gushed one respondent). But what I found wouldn't pass muster in a New Orleans high school cafeteria.

The worst offender by far was the "jambalaya." The American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition defines jambalaya thus: "A Creole dish consisting of rice that has been cooked with shrimp, oysters, ham or chicken and seasoned with spices and herbs." Your jambalaya ($3.05 for a small serving) consisted of a small amount of plain white rice on the bottom of the bowl, with slices of sausage and what seemed to be a slightly spicy vegetable soup ladled on top. That's not jambalaya.

I also tried the shrimp etouffee ($3.05 for the small serving). Yes, there were shrimp, but both they and the stew itself lacked any shrimp flavor whatsoever. Slightly sweet and pasty, utterly lacking in spice, this dish could have been served at any ladies' luncheon in Topeka, Kansas, without fear of offending anybody's taste buds.

Now onto the red beans and rice ($2.80 for a small serving with cheese and sausage). The sausage was pretty good, and the beans themselves, while not brimming with flavor, weren't disgraceful. But when ordering the red beans, you're offered the option of having them sprinkled with scallions and grated yellow cheese, additions I've never encountered in New Orleans. Now, I don't mean to offend Houstonians, but sometimes, well, one must say what must be said. Red beans and rice are not Texas chili: They don't need help. Texas chili may benefit from garnishes -- cheese, onions, avocado, what have you. Louisiana red beans and rice is good enough (or should be good enough) to stand alone. Period.

Your duck gumbo, though, isn't half bad. The broth, thickened with a slightly smoky roux, was tasty, and there were nice, big chunks of duck, but the vegetables (way too much celery!) were in huge chunks as well, leading to an unsightly presentation.

The straight Southern food works better still. The daily special of meatloaf ($5.95 with two sides) was actually quite good: juicy, with a coarse texture, and well seasoned. (It would have been even better hot, but that's another story.) The two sides were equally good: moist cornbread studded with onion (a nice touch) and excellent, pure-tasting mustard greens.

To sum up: Southern food, very good; Louisiana cuisine, very bad. Perhaps it would be better in the future if you stuck with what you do well and left "Cajun" food to the experts. Consider this a warning.

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Dennis Abrams