Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
Ever since the city took a sucker punch from Hurricane Katrina and crumbling levees a few months back, we’ve found ourselves starving for New Orleans food — po’ boys, muffalettas, mudbugs, oysters on the half-shell and etouffee. Yeah, yeah, we know that’s not what you’ll get at the best restaurants in New Orleans. But it is what we eat when we go down to that big, drowsy city we love. There’s something earthy and raw to that town, and even if our wallet could stand a trip to Commander’s Palace or Arnaud’s, we just can’t bring ourselves to eat anything fancy while we’re there.
With the possibility of being strip-searched at a National Guard checkpoint keeping us away from New Orleans for the foreseeable future, the jones for some Decatur Street grub has really started to eat into us. So, imagine how happy we were when we discovered the Crazy Cajun on a recent jaunt to Hot Springs. With a nice mix of fast-food speed and sit-down-restaurant flavor, Crazy Cajun gave this reviewer a welcome transfusion of N’awlins taste at a time when we needed it most.
Though the place looks like a chain, it actually isn’t (though the owner reports that a sister place will be going up soon in Texas). Shipwrecked in a storefront beside a gourmet coffee house, the exterior doesn’t bode well for the food. Looks, however, can be deceiving.
Once inside, we found that the Crazy Cajun has a long, long menu of seafood, steaks and South Louisiana favorites, including seven kinds of saltwater fish and flown-in boudin sausage ($5.95 for a big link), which we haven’t seen fresh and local since we moved back from Lafayette a few years ago.
Because we’ve been all but having rose-colored dreams about it, we tried a bowl of crawfish etouffee ($3.95 cup, $5.95 bowl). Companion, meanwhile, tried a quarter-pound of the hot boiled shrimp ($5.95).
Both turned out to be excellent choices. The shrimp was a generous helping: big curves of meat in the shell, just spicy enough to wake up what can be a bland appetizer. The etouffee, meanwhile, was the hands-down best I’ve had since I left Louisiana — creamy, hearty, with fresh crawfish and a smoky roux base. With a shot or two of hot sauce, it had me sniffling and watery-eyed as I scraped the dregs out of the bowl with my spoon.
From the entree menu, we decided to go with old favorites: fried catfish for Companion, and a fried shrimp po’ boy for me. Though service was generally slow once the food hit the table, our entrees came out quick and hot. (The chef was even kind enough to load my po’ boy up with mustard and slaw, the way we used to get ’em at the little grocery store a few blocks from our house in Lafayette. Try it, you’ll like it.)
Maybe it was just the degree to which we’re grieving for New Orleans, but we agreed that both our dishes were excellent. The catfish was especially good: spicy, thick fillets, covered in a crust that was simultaneously crunchy and light. The po’ boy was excellent as well: a big loaf of warmed French bread, heaped with tasty little nuggets of fried shrimp. With a few more generous splashes of hot sauce, it made for a tasty meal that stuck with me the rest of the day.
While nothing in the world is ever going to take the place of eating a big bowl of red beans and rice with a side of Dixie beer in some New Orleans bowling alley/restaurant, joints like the Crazy Cajun are a good surrogate for the time being. Until our feet can pound Royal Street again, until our ears can hear the buzz of the French Market again, until our nose can smell the muddy breeze off the river again, our taste buds will just have to stand in and keep New Orleans close to the heart. Places like Crazy Cajun will definitely help.
3928 Central Avenue, Suite F
If you’ve never tried boudin sausage, be sure to give it a try. Though it’s none too appetizing to look at, it’s the flavor that counts: a mild-to-nuclear-hot mixture of rice, veggies and meat (let’s just leave it at that, shall we?). One bite will transport you to the land of head-high sugar cane and guys named Tee-Bob. Paired with a frosty longneck, it’s enough to make you holler.
Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday. Closed Monday.
All credit cards accepted. Full bar. Catering available.