Chow, Baby: Wednesday, March 31, 2005
Serf ’n’ Turf

The readers who wrote in (thank you!) to herald the opening of Servant’s Kitchen, 1310 W. Magnolia Ave, mentioned only great seafood, excellent gumbo, and a chef from Commander’s Palace in New Orleans. Those are enough signs for Chow, Baby. So perhaps Chow, Baby can be forgiven for entering the charming, airy typical-Magnolia room (high ceilings, exposed brick) and being awestruck — not by the Bible verses scribbled on every available surface but rather by the stacked-high boxes from Gambino’s Bakery, one of the very best in the Big Easy. Po-boy bread!
Seated on some painted words from Mark 10:43, Chow, Baby almost couldn’t finish its full oyster loaf ($7.95; for the less piggish, half a loaf for $4.95 is plenty filling), chock full of huge Apalachicola Bay beauties and dressed with ultrafresh lettuce, tomatoes, red onion, and pickles. Seasoned potato wedges came from a bag but were fried to order and delicious. For reading material, Chow, Baby thought it politic to leave Mark Twain’s decidedly atheistic Letters from the Earth stashed in its back pocket and instead perused the Bible verses on the menu, along with a note from the owner: “Do you know that when you are eating or ordering from our restaurant, you are also supporting the Kingdom of God?” That does sound more noble than supporting the fly-fishing habits of the staff at Fred’s, Chow, Baby must admit. Servant’s Kitchen is affiliated with the nondenominational Arlington Living Bread & Water Ministry, which isn’t listed in the phone book, but if you ask the owner she’ll tell you how to get there.
Servant’s Kitchen is open only from 10am to 4pm, Mon-Sat, so Chow, Baby had to plan ahead for its dinner. Here came a tough choice, as the menu is wide: po-boys, burgers, and grilled-fish sandwiches; starters including sushi and tempura shrimp; soups, gumbos, and salads; seafood, steak, and chicken entrées; and pasta and rice dishes, including “traditional New Orleans-style étouffée.” But with help from a neighboring customer, Chow, Baby chose well. Chef James remembers much of his early-1980s training at Commander’s; the remoulade sauce on the jumbo-lump crab cakes ($6.95) was authentically creamy and tangy. The gumbo ya-ya (cup $3.95), not so authentic. It had nice chunks of chicken and spicy andouille sausage, but some weird chunks too. Vegetables, Chow, Baby believes they’re called. All was forgiven with the herb-crusted seared ahi tuna salad (small, which was pretty large, $6.95). It was actually medium rare! Glory be! The “salad” part was a bed of baby greens, grape tomatoes, sunflower seeds, and housemade croutons. Very nice, though could have used a vinaigrette. Bread pudding ($3.95) didn’t match Chow, Baby’s mental dictionary — not gooey enough, no rum in the sauce (sacrilege!) — but it was tasty, like a New Orleans-style french toast with raisins. And it was made with good bread.
As for atmosphere, multidenominational Chow, Baby was just as comfortable here as carnivore Chow, Baby is at vegan Spiral Diner, right next door. Servant’s Kitchen’s piped-in music has Jesus lyrics, but you have to listen pretty closely to make them out. The service was friendly and helpful, yet aside from a small shelf of reading material, there was no proselytizing whatsoever. Chow, Baby was almost disappointed. The more people praying for its immortal soul, the better.

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