For decades, Heaven on Seven in the Loop has been the go-to for Po'Boys, gumbo, etouffee and jambalaya. But a tiny restaurant in the Arcadia Terrace neighborhood, run by a Vietnamese pair, is also producing some noteworthy Cajun fare.
The difference here being the chef brings in his own culinary traditions, to make it feel a little more "Asian-Cajun."
Kenny Tran started his career as a dishwasher in Florida. But that restaurant, Bayou Cajun, taught him plenty about the one-pot dishes of New Orleans. He now attempts to recreate those dishes, along with a dash of his own Vietnamese heritage, at Po'Boy Express, on the city's far Northwest Side.
"It's more like Cajun Asian. I mix with a lot of Asian ingredients, it makes more flavors," said Tran.
His jambalaya is particularly impressive. Not only is there andouille sausage, Cajun seasoning and long grain rice, but he manages to cook them all just the right length, resulting in a rice-bound main dish that is both satisfying and assertively seasoned.
Shrimp etouffee begins with a classic roux, that is, butter and flour, cooked until just blonde, as opposed to a darker, chocolatey version you'd see in gumbo. He adds celery, peppers and onions, as well as some cayenne for a bit of punch, then fresh, tail-on shrimp, which cooks gently until cooked through. The dish is mounded with some white rice to soak up some of that rich sauce.
As for the namesake, they make about a dozen types of Po'Boys, the shrimp is tasty. He first bathes the tiny shrimp in a Cajun bath of spices then dredges them in seasoned flour, before frying until crisp. He lightly griddles the bread, brushes it with melted butter and mayo, then dresses it with pickles, tomatoes and shredded lettuce. He says the brief dunking in the seasoned water makes the difference.
"So when you fry the shrimp, you see the shrimp is more yellow and crispy," he said.
In this week's Extra Course, Steve Dolinsky takes a look at two of the drinks they have on the menu, that really speak to the owners' Asian heritage.
EXTRA COURSE: DRINKS AT PO'BOY EXPRESS
5848 N Lincoln Ave.