Every once in a while, Marie and I can be spontaneous! We don’t always plan our trips and visits and meals months in advance, only sometimes. Okay, most of the time. But once in a while, like a Sunday last month, we dropped the girlchild off with her godmother so the two of them could see a movie and had no plans whatever for supper. We just drove around the Howell Mill / Westside neighborhoods looking for anything that struck our fancy. (Between you and me, I was totally in the mood for Nuevo Laredo, and drove past it, smiling, “Well, hey! Look! Nuevo Laredo’s open on Sundays!” Marie said that she did not want Mexican. Hmph. I would have to wait a few days to manage my Mxyzptlk-timed three-month craving for Tex-Mex.)
We drove up Collier. Ssam Burger wasn’t open yet. (I believe that it is now.) I smiled at Patrick’s Sub Shop, which was closed for the evening. We passed on Figo Pasta and noticed Big Easy Grille, which is two doors down from Verde, and decided we hadn’t sampled any Cajun cooking in a while.
Big Easy Grille is a small neighborhood dive bar with a good kitchen. If our observations mean anything, the bulk of their business seems to come from regulars who love the place and who enter around suppertime on Sundays with roars of welcome from their buddies at the bar. It’s not at all quiet, and even when it’s not especially busy, it’s quite difficult to thread through the tables, but it’s good to enjoy food in the company of people who are having a very good time.
The decor is pretty much what you’d expect: lots of posters from New Orleans and Mardi Gras beads everywhere. One of the owners, who goes by “Big,” is from Slidell, Louisiana and does the cooking. His silent partner, who goes by “Easy,” is from Michigan and crunches the numbers. No idea what their real names are, honestly. I’m glad to use the pseudonyms.
Marie went back and forth over whether she wanted to try the alligator chili – I sort of wish I’d tried that, honestly! – but settled on the chicken and sausage gumbo, which she enjoyed. I had what they call “lagniappe.” Apparently, in New Orleans, this word is used to imply a to-be-expected bonus that customers can count on from a neighborhood baker, like a thirteenth doughnut in a box of twelve. Here, it’s what you order if you can’t decide between a bowl of jambalaya and a bowl of crawfish etoufee. It’s a slight upcharge to just have a big bowl with both. I enjoyed it all right, but part of me still feels like I’d rather have had that gator chili with a seafood po-boy. Maybe on the next visit.
The happiest at our table, however, was our baby. We ordered the kids’ basket of catfish and fries for him. Unfortunately, these are bland, frozen Sysco fries and not worth eating, but he was thrilled with the catfish. We had never ordered this for him before and he enjoyed every bite of it, even if it took such a long time to cool that it really tried his toddler patience! If I get back over there one lunch for some alligator chili, maybe I’ll bring him home another order.
(Incidentally, the space between Big Easy Grille and Verde is not, despite appearances, vacant. It’s home to a very high-end, super-exclusive stereo business that does not wish to draw any attention to itself. Only those in the know may visit.)
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