“I had a vision that Oklahoma needed some good, good Cajun cuisine,” Ken Mills said. He’s the owner and executive chef of Cajun King, whose original location opened in 2010 at 5816 N.W. 63rd.
Mills’ revelation for Cajun food in Oklahoma may have had some spiritual inspiration. His minister once described the chef’s beignets as “manna from heaven.”
You walk through the door and into a Bourbon Street party at Cajun King. The sound system provides a seamless flow of up-tempo zydeco swamp-pop music. Sweep into a comfortable booth in one of two big dining rooms decorated with jazz portraits from the Big Easy.
Although it’s a buffet, self-serve restaurant with no menu from which to order, a server immediately brings an order of fried catfish and warm, sugar-dusted beignets to the table.
right, Catfish and beignets
It’s actually not immediately apparent that the curly, battered strips garnished with fresh parsley are, indeed, catfish. My dining companion has always turned up her nose at this Southern fare, but she snarfed down several pieces before knowing what it was.
“It’s my signature dish,” Mills explained. “What makes it different is how I batter it and the honey-mustard sauce served alongside. People go crazy for my catfish, which tickles me to death.”
You could almost skip the buffet and let them bring basket after basket of catfish and their semisweet fritterlike beignets. While they would happily do that, you’d be making a mistake. Buffets tend to be such that either the dishes aren’t good enough to go back for seconds, or so good you have to be careful not to hurt yourself. Cajun King is the latter. The vast majority of the 20-plus entrees and side dishes is of the quality you’d find in New Orleans.
The jambalaya is rich and smoky from generous chunks of sausage. The rice is tinted brick red with rich Creole sauce. Blackened pork chops are thick, but fork tender. “That’s a customer favorite, along with the crawfish étouffée,” Mills said.
A few of the side dishes, notably collard greens and candied yams, are spectacular. Cajun King is a soulfood joint disguised as a Louisiana restaurant. Many of its offerings you’d find served at inner-city diners from Motown to Atlanta, with no mention of it being Cajun food.
It would be impossible to try everything in one visit, but a few dishes I would favor over others. Tri-pepper, oven-roasted Cajun chicken would hit my plate ahead of the somewhat dry Southern-fried chicken. The incredibly complex and delicious flavors of crawfish étouffée are superior to the more bland gumbo.
If you’ve never tried frog legs, this is your chance. Battered and deep fried, the little rascals taste somewhere between mild seafood and wild quail.
Most important, save room for bread pudding. It’s a sinfully rich dessert that’s moist and sweet, smothered in a delectable caramelized brown sugar sauce.
The dinner buffet is $10.99 daily, except on Saturdays from 4 to 9 p.m. when it’s $15.99 (drink included) because of special shrimp dishes, fried boudin balls and gator ’n’ dumplings on the buffet.
Oklahoma Gazette’s restaurant review policy is to highlight the positive aspects, and include constructive criticism regarding food, ambience or service when appropriate.
Photo by Shannon Cornman