Trawlin’ for N’awlins 

WHAT WORKS: Style and substance both count. There's no froufrou food from a Cajun finishing school here.

WHAT NEEDS WORK: The place is a little off the beaten path, quite hidden off N.W. 63rd St.

THE TIP: This is casual, no-frills stuff.

No other city is quite like New Orleans, with its cobbled streets and wrought-iron balconies, but an Oklahoma City restaurant gives us a taste of its sensual pleasures. We might not have the French Quarter, but The Shack, which looks like a Louisiana fishing camp, is a close second.

Since working with Chef Paul Prudhomme from New Orleans while living in Atlanta, I learned that Creole and Cajun cooking comprise the only true American cuisine. He claimed it was a mixture of very old French country cooking, Spanish, American Indian and African-American cooking.

In the metro, people go to The Shack when they want to party and enjoy oysters. The influence of the Big Easy is felt in every nook and cranny. Its time-tested mantra is: “It’s just a shack! Good food! Good times!” A former biker bar, this casual spot is usually packed with regulars on weekends, but after a movie (minus the popcorn), it was a perfect time for dinner. After we paid our check, I asked to see the chef-owner, Brent Hickman, but was told that he was at the Thunder game. Good for him! I fully understand how hard restaurant people work, and a Wednesday night would be the equivalent of a Saturday night for most people.

We began with the alligator appetizer served with a cream gravy ($9.99). The gator was breaded bits of tail meat (only white meat), and the cooks did an admirable job with it.

The Shack’s version of the New Orleans boudin blanc was on the menu as boudain ($6.99), a half-pound grilled link of delicious pork sausage made with rice and finely chopped onions. The accompanying sauces’ flavors were perfectly balanced and never made my head sweat. The eatery also has another version with the boudin made into fried boulettes ($6.99).

The Shack’s own seafood platter ($18.99) came with a warning that read, “Don’t substitute the frog leg, it’s good.” That dish contains a stuffed shrimp, a crab cake, two shrimp, two oysters, two catfish fillets and a frog leg. Others feast on familiar items such as gumbo, Bayou-broiled seafood, or grilled or blackened seafood. The extensive menu offers a smothered hamburger steak and a grilled pork chop with dirty rice.

Heads swiveled when the servers brought out a platter of crawfish ($6.99/pound), complete with corn on the cob, to the four-top next to us.

Our table soon held a platter of seafood jambalaya ($13.99), the real deal with rice, shrimp, crawdads and crunchy, highly seasoned green beans. It was remarkably simple, but very tasty.

Portions on all dishes are huge; be prepared to take a box home. We liked the golden brown hushpuppies ($2.99), which are traditionally served with catfish ($11.99), my choice. There were four fillets, with just enough Cajun heat, and the catfish was accompanied by The Shack’s fantastic potatoes. It was a grand version of sautéed green and red peppers, sliced onions and cubed potatoes, done right. And I’m happy I went for those potatoes, as the menu gave no explanation.

above Waiter Riley Hancock delivers lunch specials.

However, The Shack’s menu is crammed with items such as embrochette (6 for $10.99), which is bacon-wrapped shrimp, plus red beans with sausage and rice ($3.50 for a cup, or $5.99 for a bowl), and fried frog legs “fresh out da swamps of Louisiana” (6 for $16.99).

The lunch menu ranges from $7.99 to $12.99, plus a section on pasta dishes with three named after gals (Pasta Anne, $18.99; Pasta Lucille and Pasta Melany, both $15.99). A kids’ menu ranges from $3.99 to $6.99.

For dessert, we shared a sliced of the Key lime pie ($4.50) that was as rich as cheesecake. The Shack also has bourbon pecan pie ($4.50), a mud slide ($6.50) and a root beer float ($2.50). They sure are kicking it up in this kitchen.

Oklahoma Gazette’s restaurant review policy is to highlight the positive aspects, and include constructive criticism regarding food, ambience or service when appropriate.

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