This time in the soul food series, we visited Esther's Cajun Café & Soul Food. Can you say IMPRESSIVE with a side of "SLAP YA MAMMA GOOD?" Yes, they show and prove that they know a lot of something about soul food! We first heard about this little gem from Kevin Shalin, of the Mighty Rib food blog, when we told him we were starting a soul food series. He was so excited and because of his love for this place he insisted we add it to our list. With an endorsement like that it was hard for me to wait; so I am sad to report (wink, wink) that my first visit was without Urban Girl.
As soon as you enter this North Houston café you get the feel of good food and family. My visit was on a Sunday afternoon, so the gospel music was jumping out of the speakers and the aroma of black-eyed peas, chicken, oxtails, and a hodgepodge of other deliciousness hit me at the door. My first thoughts were, "I'm home and they want me to feel welcome", with the family photos lining the wall and the cozy feel that was lingering all around. Standing kind of frozen at the door taking in the music and sights, an old BeBe and CeCe Winans song was playing and I just went to a happy food moment from my past; the young lady at the counter loudly tried to get my attention. I apologized and told her, "Sorry I was having a moment and now I am ready to handle-up on this food!"
It was very hard to decide, so I opted to get 2 meals (all the entrées include 3 side dishes) and sample lots of things. I selected: oxtails, cabbage, black-eyed peas, steamed rice, candied yams, chitterlings, and more steamed rice. Now I just needed to find someone to eat all this food with me and again Urban Girl was not available. Let me just say Esther and her team do both her mother and grandmother’s recipes and traditions proud. Everything was prepared and seasoned with just the right precision. My favorites were the chitterlings, which I must say was a little surprising! I have not eaten them in about 15 years and have only ever had the desire to eat my mothers. I don't know what it was about those chitterlings that made me fall off the wagon, but it's a wrap, I am officially back on the sauce - oops, I mean chitterlings. Next on my "yummy for ya tummy faves", were the black-eyed peas. Here, it was all about perfectly blended seasonings and the right texture - I can't stand overcooked beans.
A few weeks later, Urban Girls' food envy got the best of her and we had to visit Esther's on a random Fall evening (that's my story and I am sticking to it). This is where she takes over the story…
Now we all remember that old saying that our parents would bring up every time we had a disagreement with one of our siblings? Yep, that "there are always two sides to every story". Although this still holds true in my adult life, I will admit that the pictures taken by Swanky Girl during her first visit did spark a bit of "interest". Not sure if I would call it "food envy" but we will leave that argument for another post :). As we rolled into the parking lot at Esther's, the first thing I noticed was the strangely positioned "patio" that seemed to sit right in the middle of the parking lot; it made the place kinda hard to miss! We came one hour prior to closing and were greeted by a member of the family as we entered. Those working at Esther's were either family or close friends; I immediately felt welcomed.
Many of the soul food restaurants in Houston are cafeteria style and this setting was no different. I was torn on what to sample and trying to decide between the oxtails and the pepper steaks was quite difficult. In the end, I went with the Cajun Pepper Steaks, candied yams, cabbage, sweet corn and I grabbed a container of Peach Cobbler to go (always thinking about the hubby). Made with ground beef, smothered in a brown gravy sauce and blended with just the right amount of seasoning and spice, those pepper steaks were fantastic! The candied yams got another high five and the caramelized sugars in this dish reminded me of why I can never visit a soul food restaurant and not order it! The corn was very sweet but the flavors were well balanced due to the addition of the green and red peppers. The cabbage on the other hand was a bit too sweet for me.
You will find with soul food that depending on where you go, restaurants may opt for a savory or sweet take on a given side dish. For example, corn, cabbage, and cornbread dressing can play on both sides of the fence. Because I had so many sweet side dishes (sweet corn and candied yams), I expected the cabbage to be more "savory", but it wasn't. It was good, but it didn't go well with my other choices. During our second visit, we also ordered the Baked Chicken & Rice and the Mac' N Cheese. The baked chicken was enough for two and a to-go box was ordered as soon as we sat down to eat. Very tender and pleasing to the eyes with its perfectly tanned skin, the chicken was a hit. The mac' n cheese was also great with its sharp flavor and creaminess; it alone would set the case for a third visit.
You know...I don't think there is anything we wouldn't enjoy at Esther's Cajun Café & Soul Food. Everything was amazing, their food is consistent, the dishes are flavorful, and it reminds us of home. We would LOVE to say we've put a big dent in the massive menu on our few visits; but we've only scratched the surface. Exactly…that is a great problem to have, wouldn’t you say? In the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger - "We'll Be Back"!