Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Hoo-boy, there's some gator on the menu.

This restaurant has closed.

CRABBY:  Stuffed crab at Cayennes Cajun Cuisine
  • CRABBY: Stuffed crab at Cayenne's Cajun Cuisine
Until I started doing this for a living, my husband and I would take a week each year and travel to New Orleans — where we’d eat. Seriously. We went on a culinary vacation every year to New Orleans, usually in October, a few times in December from 2000 to 2005. That year we decided to go in March for some crazy reason. And then there was Katrina.
We still go down and eat from time to time. There’s just something about Cajun and Creole flavors that just make me happy, a need to satisfy that Trinity and Pope obsession (that Trinity being bell pepper, onion and celery, the Pope being garlic). Even now we try to build a few days in the city any time we’re passing from point A to point B.
It’s good to find flavors like that here in Central Arkansas. I’ve actually been pretty surprised over the years that we haven’t seen more Cajun restaurants in the area. Finding out about Cayenne’s Cajun Cuisine meant I had a new place to check out for my Louisiana fix.

We dropped by on a Friday afternoon and decided to split on our meals. My dining companion would try the buffet advertised that night for $15.99. I would choose from the menu.
My choice — the Seafood Platter ($16.99), which seemed like a goodly amount of food to share between myself and the girl child. While my companion went for his first trip to the buffet, I was presented with a seafood gumbo with a deep brown roux and a lot of 30-45 count size shrimp (about quarter-size). It contained small bits of crab, green onions and a soft smash of trinity throughout. It was served with a bowl of rice on the side. The gumbo was served hot and was nicely spicy, but mild enough my daughter had no issue with it.
My dining companion returned with a plate of food from the buffet. The hodgepodge included barbecue pork riblets, fried shrimp, dirty rice and — of all things, a softly stewed dish of alligator. The only gator on the menu is fried alligator bites; this was gator served with a nice blend of Cajun spices, slow-cooked like a roast, with a flavor between pork and chicken. It had a tougher texture than chicken and strung out like a red meat, but it had a lot of flavor that was only enhanced by the goodly amount of fat on board.
The dirty rice, a side item on the menu, is a real winner. Full of bits of meat and spice, it’s a deliciously hearty side that conjures the bayou in the mind.

My platter was delivered, and immediately everyone at the table realized I’d receive the better deal. It was a big mess of fried, sure — but it was also varied and full of fresh cooked and tasty morsels. There were several nicely fried oysters at the bottom of the heap. Flat pressed shrimp were properly breaded with cornmeal and fried to perfection. An additional shrimp had been stuffed with a slightly spicy crabmeat dressing and given the same treatment. There was a stuffed crab with a little extra kick to it, a whole mess of fries (mashed or baked potato, dirty rice are other side options) and some dark fried, densely packed barely sweet hush puppies.
And there were a couple of delicious white fish fillets… white fish. That did throw me off. They weren’t catfish. I woulda just assumed catfish, but no, white fish. Not that I minded. Catfish can be a little too muddy for me.
The girl child could not get enough of the fish. She ate a whole fillet and got halfway through the other. I was glad I at least got a taste.
Even with the two of us eating on the platter, we still took about half of it home. Heartier appetites might do better.
My dining companion did manage to try the peach cobbler, but wasn’t all that impressed. It was cobbler. The best things on the buffet were meaty things. If you like some varied fried meats supplemented with a little barbecued hog, the buffet is the choice for you.
Cayenne’s offers its buffet any time it’s open. The prices vary. I hear they have crab legs on Wednesday — I could do some real damage there.
You’ll find Cayenne’s Cajun Cuisine on John Harden Road in Jacksonville — north of the air base. (501) 241-2121 or check out the website.

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