Saturday, August 11, 2007

Cheap Seafood Ain't Good

My rule of thumb about seafood is this: if it's more than 100 miles inland, realize that most shrimp/fish/scallops/other seafood is not going to be really fresh. If you take that into consideration, your expectations will be adequately adjusted for the food you're about to consume.

The title of this post comes from the marquee at Who Dat's Cajun Restaurant in Bald Knob, Arkansas. I am inclined to agree with their assessment of seafood quality and have to give them credit for doing justice to good seafood. To say the portions are generous is an understatement and considering that, the $15 to $20 for most entrees on the menu doesn't seem overpriced. Most also include their food bar, which when added to the meals makes for more food than I can eat in one sitting. Everything I tasted was in single a word, flavorful. Many restaurants like to substitute heat for flavor and treat Cajun as label meaning "hot." That's not a real definition of all things Cajun. These guys get it. They understand that while heat has it's place, it's not a stand-in for good flavor and a disguise for poor quality. The gumbo was the best I've had anywhere and I can't honestly say I could identify everything in it. Sometimes I know it's better that I don't know the complete contents. Other things on the menu and food bar that were good included the fried catfish, hush puppies and blackened catfish. I'd expected the blackened fish to have more heat, as I've become accustomed to the whole "hot" in place of flavor versions most places serve. This was quite the contrary as it had a warm flavor but was not intensely hot. The seasoned rice (or any of their rice for that matter) was also a nice complement to about any dish. The one real surprise was the roast beef on the food bar. I'd rank it in the top 5 of roast beef dishes I've had, which I would have never thought to look for in a Cajun restaurant. The selection of deserts was plentiful and delicious as well, so despite having really no room left after all the feasting, I had to sample the Peanut Butter Pie and the Carmel Pecan Chocolate Cake. I certainly wouldn't send either of those back to the kitchen, they were a fine finish to a large but tasty meal.

With eager patrons lining up out the door before 6pm in this small town, I was glad I arrived early. As I was leaving I saw a framed copy of a magazine article titled "Ten Places Worth Driving For" based out of Little Rock. After seeing, smelling and tasting why it's on their list, I'm anxious to ask, what are the other nine?

My Rating: 4 Stars
Pros: Leaving here hungry won't be the fault of the restaurant, there's so much food available at every turn. Most everything on the menu is good, and there's plenty to choose from. Even the seafood adverse folks will find something here. Family friendly atmosphere. I could put the seasoning they use on several dishes in a bowl and eat it, it's that good.
Cons: Gargantuan portions, so big I couldn't make a real dent in my meal and that was after I chose to forgo 99% of the food bar. A little pricey for those with a light appetite, but if you're really hungry and have hollow legs, it's not a bad value. The shrimp are on the larger size and tend to have more of a prawn than shrimp taste; unless you're a fan of prawns, I'd steer clear of them.

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