The third and last Cajun place I visited during my Louisiana cuisine orgy last month is one of my favorite Houston stops: The Ragin Cajun, at the original location on Richmond Street, near the Galleria. Don’t let the upscale address fool you, as there is nothing upscale about this place, just great food, cold beer, and atmosphere.
Although, I may have spoken too soon. I’ve been coming to this establishment for 15 years, stopping by here on business trips long before I moved to the Houston area. You order from the counter, standing in line behind piles of 1950s era school yearbooks, listening to zydeco, watching the servers swiftly taking orders or the TVs, turned to sports, which ring the dining room. Seating is community style: you pick one of the long tables and pull up a chair. Depending on the time of the day, and whether or not it’s crawfish season, you might find yourself at one of the long tables, seated near other people. If you’re feeling grouchy and unsocial, or want some private time, smaller tables are available as well.
When you order up your bucket of boiled crawfish, a plate of catfish, a monster oyster po’boy, or some of the best shrimp etouffee around, you can also order from a large selection of beers and a full bar. A favorite is the spicy Cajun version of the Bloody Mary, complete with black pepper, a few pickled vegetables, and their special vodka, made by aging the vodka for several weeks in hot peppers, onions, and secret ingredients. I could drink these all night, if I had someone to drive me home afterwards. They also make standard Bloody Mary drinks for those faint of heart and stomach. For a second round of drinks, you can bypass the food counter and enter the bar, which is sometimes filled with sports fans, and can be cozy or crowded, depending on which game is on and whether it’s crawfish season.
One of my fond memories of this place, in additional to great food, is the friends I have met here for lunch or dinner. Several years ago, an out-of-town friend was here on business, and a handful of us who all know each other from an online community met at the Ragin Cajun for dinner. It became a habit, and after a few months we decided to formalize the group’s interest with a Meetup.com group. We started meeting the private room in the back, and sometimes had guest speakers. Although it was often noisy and got crowded as our group grew in number, we liked the food. However, after about a year, the manager decided that he should charge us $100 to use the room, even though everyone always had dinner and drinks, and the only table service was drink refills. Our group had outgrown the room, but we decided if someone didn’t want 25 people coming in once a month and spending several hundred dollars, we would move on. Even if it was crawfish season.
The group now has 900 registered members, and the meetings have 50 to 60 people each month, so we couldn’t have stayed much longer at the small room, but I was sad to leave, as it was my only excuse for venturing into this part of town. So when my friend Chris visited from Canada, and we had already fed him food from the Gumbo Bar in Galveston, I decided he needed to try this place. As we entered, the owner ushered us to the area of the private room. Except the room was gone. They had bought the business next door and double the size of the restaurant by creating an associate restaurant with menus and real dinnerware and TABLECLOTHS AND WAITERS! Oh no! What had happened to my beloved place?
The next-door restaurant, called LA Bar, serves the same food as its less mannered cousin next door, but might appeal to people who want to be waited on, such as when you are entering guests or want a more intimate setting. LA Bar is not stuffy, and the dress code is casual, but you can have a private dining room for events (with no loudspeaker calling out “Number 28 order up!”) and have your Bloody Mary in a glass rather than a Solo Cup. While I had wanted to sit on the original side, I welcomed an opportunity to try something a bit different.
And we did! My friend Chris ordered Chargrilled Oysters as a starter. Being a true Texan, I love the flavor and aroma of anything grilled. The oysters were served in their shells, open and grilled on open flame so that the shell was blackened on the bottom. A touch of Parmigiana was the only adornment, so that the meaty flavor of the grilled oysters was dressed in nothing but the savory smoke flavor.
For our late lunch, Chris ordered the shrimp boil platter (even though I repeatedly pointed out that it was crawfish season), which no one human being can finish. I opted for a trio sampler of shrimp gumbo, shrimp creole, and crawfish etouffee, which was perfect after all those wonderful oysters! And of course, a Bloody Mary. I was driving that day, so alas, I could have only one. For dessert, you can get typical Louisiana treats such as bread pudding or Bourbon Pecan pie, but I’ve never actually seen anyone order dessert. Life’s too short. Dessert takes up room that can be filled with crawfish!
- Fine Dining in the Oilfield: Zydeco (twodifferentgirls.com)
- Fine Cajun Dining in the Oil Field part deux: Gumbo Bar (twodifferentgirls.com)
- Extremely Bloody Mary (neatorama.com)
- Mudbug mania hits Southeast Texas (beaumontenterprise.com)
- Crawfish Season is Here! (hungryandhealthyinhouston.wordpress.com)
- Cajun cooking oil fuels trans-Atlantic flights (nj.com)
- Flooding in La. could lead to crawfish shortage (click2houston.com)