Chuy's casts a long, neon shadow at the gateway to Fort Worth's near west side. The popular Mexican chain, with its vivid color scheme and packed patio, could easily obscure your view of any of its neighbors.
Don't let that happen.
Because right next door, Roanoke import Bayou Jack's Cajun Grill has arrived, ready to cook up authentic Creole and Cajun dishes, and conquer the same culinary landscape that swallowed high-profile flame-outs So7Bistro and So7 Bar and Grill.
When we stopped into Bayou Jack's for an ad-hoc family dinner a couple of weeks into its opening, we had few expectations other than scoring a good po' boy and some decent french fries for our discerning little ones, who eat as though they are pursuing Ph.D.'s in fried potatoes.
We were pleasantly surprised by our experience, even if any semblance of ambiance was missing -- we were the only diners there at about 6:30 p.m. -- and we weren't able to order a well-deserved (see: eating with children) frozen margarita since the restaurant's liquor license was pending. But the environment was promising, with a bright color scheme of yellow, red and black threatening to almost jump off the walls, and a couple of requisite TVs along the short bar.
It was nothing a few beers on the house couldn't handle, and we needed them to tackle the wide-ranging menu that could send any patron into a state of ordering paralysis.
An internal dialogue may arise: Do I feel like eating something usually reliable, like fried calamari? Or am I requiring something more daring, like crawfish queso? Just the list of appetizers alone could lull you into a state of submission. We chose the "new" (i.e., presumably a new menu item at the originating Roanoke locale) grilled oysters ($7.25), which turned out to be six meaty nuggets on the half shell, topped with melted pecorino cheese. With a garlic-lemon butter sauce, the oysters, very fresh, were pretty enjoyable despite featuring disparate ingredients like lemon and cheese. A couple of fresh pieces of French bread wiped away the sauce and any skepticism.
Soon, the kids were happily munching on (better than average) white-meat popcorn chicken and fries ($3.99 with a drink) while we moved on to heartier, more age-appropriate fare -- namely the Menage a 3, a platter with a cup each of etouffee, gumbo, and red beans and rice ($11.97). All three were standouts, and perhaps the beans and rice won top honors for its smoky spiciness. But it was close -- the gumbo's shrimp, chicken and Andouille sausage were nicely infused with flavor, as were the crawfish tails in the ettouffee.
The oyster po' boy ($8.99) was just as satisfying. A heaping handful of fried oysters (all generous in size) were precariously wedged between two thick-cut pieces of French bread. Standard accoutrements -- shredded lettuce, tomato and remoulade -- contributed to this very good rendition. Because I am a little condiment crazy, I asked for more options and received a small cup of tartar sauce, also nicely executed with bits of pickle, and was that horseradish we detected? Fries that came on the side were addictive and notable for their almost breaded-like texture: crispy but also chewy.
Now back to the elephant in the room. (No, not me, though I was very satisfied after the meal.) We like to think we were the only diners at that time that night because the restaurant is new or perhaps word got out that its roster of 'Ritas and Hurricanes were not quite ready for action.
No matter the reason -- in a short time, Bayou Jack's has become beloved in Roanoke, and it deserves to find an audience here as well. In a sea of lackluster gumbo bowls and near-pathetic attempts at po' boys in the DFW waters, the food here is authentic and very satisfying.
In fact, we're already making plans to go back for a mixed drink to-be-determined and some shrimp grits. And if no one is there, well, that just means we won't have to share.