One of the first things you’ll see as you approach Allie’s Cajun Kitchen, a 2-month-old restaurant in the Wedgewood section of Fort Worth, is a grinnin’ gator with a chef’s hat on his head.
The playful logo sets the tone for the generous and sunny spirit you’ll find inside, where 20-something sibling managers Victoria and Miranda Garcia have assembled a menu of more than 50 offerings of all things Cajun — from boudin and crab bites to fried catfish and tilapia, jambalaya and gumbo that will have you grinnin’, too.
The restaurant was bankrolled by Victoria and Miranda’s father, Rolando Garcia, a Houston-based tax attorney whose culinary passions run almost strictly to the Louisiana bayou. The interior features splashes of Cajun colors — carrot cake-orange and bumble bee yellow walls — plus 11 of Miranda’s Andy Warhol-esque acrylic paintings.
The food embraces that popular Southern adage that everything can be deep-fried. But wary of a frialator run amok, Allie’s attains a high standard of first-rate-frying. The crab bites starter ($2.99 for three) fairly crackles with crispy skin goodness, an exterior that parts to reveal a generous ratio of lump crab meat and cream cheese. Dunking the bites into a lusty cup of chicken and sausage gumbo ($3.99) makes for a nice change of pace from the perfectly suitable, house-made remoulade sauce.
Both the shrimp and catfish, united on one of Allie’s numerous combo platters ($7.99), also sport the same crackling armor formed from a combination of corn meal and yellow corn flour. That exterior camouflages neither the shrimp’s juiciness nor the catfish’s flakiness.
The chef doesn’t get negligent when it comes to the more delicate frying constitution of the hush puppy or okra sides — each of which are little nuggets of nongreasy goodness.
Allie’s chef displays an equally adroit touch with that other famed Nawlins’ cooking technique — blackening. The blackened tilapia ($10.99) has a beguiling crust composed of a mysterious combination of spices that the sisters Garcia refuse to divulge. But safe to say, it wears the kind of charred exterior that morphs into its own dusky spice, yet willingly yields to remarkably moist fish. Somewhere along Bourbon Street, the three chef amigos — Emeril Lagasse, John Besh and Paul Prudhomme — are doffing their toques at this paragon of blackened cooking.
In yet another sign of Allie’s versatility, it expertly turns out pasta tangled with crawfish and shrimp, in a voluptuously rich marinara cream sauce. The sauce is braided with grilled red onions, scallions, and ubiquitous bell peppers. This Cajun pasta ($10.99) is the most substantial dish we sampled at Allie’s, a rib-sticker that will be even more irresistible once the mercury dips below 40 degrees.
It’s been years since, at sun-up, I shambled into the Big Easy’s Cafe du Monde for the hangover cure-all of beignets and cafe au lait. So, what a pleasure it is to be reunited with the simple pleasures of Allie’s beignet trio ($2.49) all dusted in a blizzard of powdered sugar, and just aching to be dipped in a bit of maple syrup.
All that is missing is a cup of that simmering coffee, and the sweet serenade of a street musician playing better jazz than you’d find at any snooty club.
Note to Allie’s: Hire some local New Orleans-influenced musicians. They’ll complete the authentic Big Easy experience your food so enthusiastically captures.