There's nothing about the somewhat desolate commercial strip in Haltom City, home to Mary's Cajun Corner, that even remotely suggests New Orleans charm or its jazzy cool. But despite its ramshackle location, Mary's still pays consistently successful homage to the lusty flavors that run like a lazy bayou through the Big Easy's cooking.
Mary's resistance to restaurant pretension shows itself in its sweetly sloppy exterior. On its sign, the advertised "catfish" is missing a "t" and the "r" in "oyster gumbo" lags lazily below the other letters.
This disarming informality continues with Mary's ordering routine. You belly up to the counter, pick from among dozens of dishes on the menu board, fetch your cutlery and find a table. Mary's decor is kitschy crab-shack -- with seashell and fishermen's net wall adornments, a string of white Christmas lights, vinyl-covered booths and paper-towel dispensers for napkins -- the better to devour a newspaper full of crawfish.
The piped-in music, generic hip-hop, doesn't distract from the pleasant task at hand: tackling the restaurant's healthy portions. The catfish platter ($6.50) offers three perfectly greaseless fillets, breading melting when it is dipped into tartar sauce.
If Mary's has a signature touch, it's that each dish comes with its own handy squeeze-bottle full of the appropriate sauce -- from tartar to remoulade to a spin on classic ranch.
Thanks to a deft touch with the deep fryer, Mary's serves up addicting little nuggets of alligator ($6.99). Naturally, it tastes a bit like chicken, but the alligator's juicy consistency shines through its breading and a tangy remoulade sauce.
Two of Mary's starters tilt heavily toward New Orleans-style heat and smoke. Spicy potatoes ($1.50) are three hulking spuds liberally fire-stoked with cayenne and paprika. However, those potatoes do a quick fade with the arrival of two spicy smoked sausage links ($1.99). Still hissing, their crackling skin tattooed with grill marks, the sausage was all porky goodness.
Clearly undecided over whether to tackle an authentic New Orleans etouffee or gumbo, Mary's splits the difference with chicken Orlean ($5.99). The chicken chunks, adorned with a paprika-flecked seasoning mix, don't bully the tongue with scorching heat.
If there is an irrefutable sign of Mary's skills at re-creating the Crescent City's rustic culinary magic, it is the sight of customers parading out the door, overloaded with to-go boxes.
Andrew Marton is a Star-Telegram senior arts writer, 817-390-7679.