What did he say? Let Kitty Humbug translate. He said “Laissez les bons temps rouler.”
I knew that Houston housed a large number of Hurricane Katrina evacuees, but didn’t realize that San Antonio also became home to a smaller but still significant number of refugees. “Between 25,000 and 35,000 evacuees arrived in San Antonio between August and September 2005. A year later, 15,000 to 18,000 were still here” (mysanantonio.com).
And one such evacuee has made her mark—Dwana Dominick. The Big Easy Café is her contribution to the San Antonio food scene. And while we will be back in Lafayette, LA, in about six weeks, it is always a good time for authentic Cajun/Creole cooking.
“Big, bold, and rich flavors can be found at Big Easy Café. Though it was the disastrous Hurricane Katrina that brought the Big Easy Café restaurant owners to the Alamo city, the native New Orleans family kept an optimistic outlook believing it was their chance to show others dirty south done right. Keeping their spirits high and their standards for serving authentic soul food even higher, our Cajun restaurant has been offering its patrons authentic, fresh Cajun food at prices that can’t be found anywhere else. From the ambiance to the flavorful food, every detail in this casual and comfortable café is meticulously constructed to introduce locals to the culture and traditions that are New Orleans” (mysanantonio.com).
“…the presentation and atmosphere are pure New Orleans-style home cooking, free of artifice and pretension but filled with respect for the ingredients and a love of providing good hospitality. Owner and head chef Dwana Dominick…credits her culinary skills to her maternal grandmother, and those skills are formidable, with nearly everything made from scratch…” (Edmund Tijerina at mysanantonio.com).
Ms. Dominick’s “respect for the ingredients” goes as far as making regular forays back to New Orleans to purchase authentic Louisiana ingredients. In fact, she was on such a trip on the day of our visit. Among the products she uses are these recognizable names—D&D Smoked Sausage, Patton's Hot Sausage, Richard's Andouille Sausage, Mr. T's Sausage, Don's Boudin, Best Stop Cold Smoked Boudin, Luxury Macaroni, Slap Ya Mama Seasoning, LSU Tiger Dust, Zapp's Potato Chips, Blue Plate Mayonnaise, Camellia Beans, and Chisesis Brothers Ham.
But in Ms. Dominick’s absence, the café was in the more than capable hands of her mother (unfortunately we didn’t get her name) who is a long-time San Antonio resident. We did have the opportunity to talk with her at some length, and she said something that I found inspiring when talking about how her loved ones fared during Hurricane Katrina—“We lost everything, but we didn’t lose anyone.”
The Big Easy Café is part poor boy shop and part Louisiana plate lunch house. The plate lunch specials on the day of our visit were red beans and rice with sausage, grilled pork chops, oven-smothered chicken, and baked redfish with shrimp. But what we really wanted was an honest-to-goodness Louisiana poor boy. “If happiness can exist on a plate, it's in the form of a po' boy from the Big Easy Café. It's a model of elegant simplicity, a dish with few ingredients, all done right. It consists of a crisp crust and soft interior of a proper New Orleans-style baguette, perfectly fried filling and proper dressing of shredded crisp and fresh lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and Blue Plate mayo…” (Edmund Tijerina at mysanantonio.com).
Our choice was to share the fourteen-inch blackened catfish poor boy along with three sides. The poor boy contained two large catfish filets that were lightly blacked with Creole seasoning (Slap Ya Mama, perhaps). The catfish was moist, flakey, and not at all “fishy” tasting, and the blackening had been applied with a moderate hand so that you certainly detected the heat from cayenne pepper but could still taste the fish. And the roll was just as described above by Mr. Tijerina—crisp crust and soft interior.
For our sides we chose, first, an order fries that I am sure came frozen from a bag and that had been dusted with creole seasoning. Our second side was potato salad made with Blue Plate mayo and containing chopped pickle, red pepper, and a copious amount of finely chopped green onion. And our third side was the red beans and rice.
Now I must say, with absolutely no modesty whatsoever, that I make a dynamite pot of red beans and rice. But I can’t really take credit because I follow to the letter Emeril Lagasse’s recipe from Louisiana Real and Rustic. But should you wire me up to a polygraph, I would have to admit that these were even better. The beans (Camellia brand) were soft but not mushy and they swam in a pot liquid that was neither too soupy nor too starchy. The dish contained lots of quarter rounds of spicy andouille (Richard’s?). And throughout you could taste the flavors of bay leaf and thyme. Delicious.
Were it not for the so-so fries, this would have been a 5.0 Addie Cajun experience. But it certainly merits 4.0 Addies.
And we didn’t even get to the award-winning gumbo.
To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.