Though the spice is wanting in Café New Orleans’ Mardi Gras Pasta, the dish is still a winner.
|Café New Orleans
Shrimp and crawfish gumbo $8.95
Fried shrimp po’ boy $9.95
Mardi Gras Pasta $13.95
Bayou catfish $11.95
Breakfast po’ boy $6.50
Cajun breakfast burrito $6.95
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Café New Orleans delivers solid, no-frills Cajun faves and fusion-esque dishes, plus
By ANTHONY MARIANI
Café New Orleans
4601 W Fwy, Ste 214, FW. 817-732-1800. 7:30am-9pm Sun-Thu, 7:30am-10:30pm Fri-Sat. All major credit cards accepted.
afé New Orleans, for the record, is not jumping on the sympathy bandwagon. Long before the flood, the intimate Fort Worth eatery, at the intersection of South Hulen and I-30, was known as Crescent City Beignets, after one of New Orleans’ many antediluvian nicknames. The restaurant’s owner is the same, and, according to the company line, the food is still “great!” Funny story: When two terribly hip ladies walked into the café recently and expressed uncertainty at patronizing a place that had unceremoniously taken on a new moniker (gasp!) behind their backs, one of the café’s workers exclaimed, “Same great food!” But the ladies weren’t buying it: You could hear them asking themselves, “Would Ralph Lauren change his name?” They left.
Café New Orleans doesn’t need any sympathy. Boasting a Cajun-based menu that’s loaded with everything from fancy, continental-influenced entrées to Mexican-inflected quick bites, the place amazingly navigates a satisfactory, filling middle ground between exotic and comforting.
One of several worthy offerings is the turkey muffaletta — a few slices of the titular bird, plus salami and provolone cheese, accented by a diced olive mix and bound by two pieces of herb focaccia bread. Apparently, Café New Orleans forgot that a traditional muffaletta should weigh about as much as a manhole cover and require the gustatory strength of 10 mortals to consume in one sitting. But while the restaurant’s ignorance may disappoint the part of your brain that encourages sloth, your waistline — and your taste buds — will thank you. The sugary toasted turkey played well with its salty neighbors, suggesting a soul-warming antidote to blustery winter winds rather than a porch-side delight among soothing bayou breezes.
Talk about soul-warming: Café New Orleans’ shrimp and crawfish gumbo would give the Prince of Darkness himself the sweats. The heat even managed to make up for the bowl’s anemic substance. Aswirl in thin, brown broth, spackled with pellets of pepper and other spices, the plump main ingredients were hard to find, even when dredging with a formidably sized soup spoon. The bowl was so watery that a meager side of dirty rice dissipated like a single sugar cube in a vat of coffee. Chunky-style gumbo enthusiasts, take heed: Request two side orders of the dirty rice, a tasty accompaniment with the consistency of oatmeal and a just-right sausage-to-whiteness ratio. (Translation: There’s a lot of sausage.)
The heat is less detectable in Café New Orleans’ fusion-esque offerings. But that’s why God created bottles of hot sauce! The red stuff lit a fire under one delicious yet non-spicy dish in particular, the Mardi Gras Pasta — al dente bow tie pasta in scrumptiously cheesy alfredo sauce, plus shrimp, fried crawfish tails, and chicken strips (choice, meaty cuts that the menu promises are blackened but on a recent visit came entirely pepper-free).
Catapulting the bowl from above-average to excellent was the presentation, a marriage of form and function. The entrée arrived in a white bowl whose broad rim was covered in tiny, wispy, orderly piles of paprika, like the numerals on a clock face. The rusty-red particles not only saved the dish from looking like a total white-out, they also provided some much-needed kick when mixed in with the rest of the edible elements.
Café New Orleans’ fried shrimp po’ boy, however, may cause a Cajun food purist to blanch. It wasn’t bad, just boring — chunky, fishy, gently breaded shrimp stuffed between two slices of lighter-than-air, grilled panini bread, with fresh lettuce, super-fresh tomato, and the cafe’s homemade remoulade sauce, a tangy riff on Thousand Island dressing that had a savory zip but was way too sparsely distributed. The pervading sensation that came to mind when munching on the city of New Orleans’ signature sandwich was, “This tastes fresh — and healthy!” Note to any restaurateur who serves po’ boys: When a diner’s digging into one, the last thing you want him thinking is “fresh and healthy.” He should be saying to himself, “Dear God, my arteries may be clogging quicker than rush-hour traffic in downtown Houston, but, damn, I can’t stop jamming this fried shrimp po’ boy into my mouth!”
Death with a smile comes quickly to mind when sinking into Café New Orleans’ blue-ribbon blackened catfish — two decent-sized, liberally seasoned filets with more punch than a roomful of heavyweight boxing champs. No local catfish can compare. Period.
Though the restaurant’s pedestrian-unfriendly location — in a strip mall — suggests otherwise, Café New Orleans should be on everyone’s go-to list for morning dining. The breakfast po’ boy is as hearty as your run-of-the-mill fast food breakfast-on-a-bun but is much less sweet and (naturally) much more healthful. Made from two neatly scrambled eggs with ham, American cheese, shredded lettuce, tomato, and mayo on a supremely soft croissant, the sandwich doesn’t rely on heavy amounts of grease to win you over. Instead, it supplies a fantastic mélange of sweet, sour, and in-between flavors, in the shape of a solid, two-hander of a portable meal.
On the smaller-but-much-more-dense side of the eye-openers menu, the Cajun breakfast burrito is — no kidding — one heckuva home-cooked Mexican entrée in miniature. With two scrambled and deliciously runny eggs, bits of hickory smoked bacon, and the restaurant’s “famous” Café Cajun Hash, all wrapped up in a paper-thin tortilla, the burrito is spicy, chewy, non-messy, robust, and addictive. If you’ve ever dreamed of a heavenly utopia where Mexican and Cajun food live happily together, Café New Orleans’ Cajun breakfast burrito will take you there.
Most of the café’s breakfast dishes come with seasonal fruit (the cantaloupe is out of this world) and the restaurant’s incredible, made-on-the-premises beignets. Traditional Jazz Capital staples, beignets taste kind of like puffy donuts and look kind of like small éclairs. Topped by powdered sugar, a single one of Café New Orleans’ bad boys is about as heavy as a roll of quarters but melts in your mouth like angel food cake. To get your grubby mitts on beignets this good, you may just have to travel to New Orleans.
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