The window sign at Damian’s Cajun Soul Café says closing time is 4 p.m., but that’s not quite accurate. This family-owned comfort-food spot actually shuts down as soon as it runs out of food, which happened to be around 2 p.m. last Wednesday, requiring a guest and me to make a return trip the next day. Our annoyance was soothed by the terrific soul food confections at the tiny, strip-mall eatery, where fans normally begin lining up almost as soon as the doors open at 11 a.m.
We sampled four of the Thursday entrée specials and all of the vegetable sides. The fried pork chop was a tender piece of pig that resembled a generous portion of chicken-fried steak. The chop had been deep-fried until just the right amount of hot grease was left in the crisp, mildly seasoned breading. A smallish but hearty mound of dirty rice came alongside, steaming hot and mixed with medium-spicy ground pork sausage that made it mouthwatering. The other side, mashed potatoes, was smooth and creamy, with pools of dark brown beef gravy ladled on top.
Another stellar entrée was the plate of barbecue pork ribs: three long rib bones each hugged by a thick layer of tender, succulent pork. In the realm of barbecue sauce, some like it hot and some like it sweet, and both camps should like the dark red sauce on those ribs –– an excellent marriage of the two, the first honey-like sweetness followed by a mellow smokiness. The smothered cabbage was heaven, probably the best of the veggie sides: thick cabbage leaves simmered with small chunks of salty ham, leaving them silky and flavorful with a slight molasses-like aftertaste. The red beans had been cooked to the consistency of a savory stew, with an agreeably light sweetness added to the mix.
Served with sticky, fluffy white rice, the smothered beef tips were formidable, juicy morsels of lean roast in a savory beef stock sauce. It was marvelous and not too heavy for a lunch entrée. The mac ’n’ cheese was not your typical bland lump of thick yellow cheese and elbow macaroni but a surprisingly spicy pasta mixture, with a red pepper zing in the sharp cheese sauce.
A fresh shrimp flavor dominated the chicken, sausage, and shrimp gumbo, which was also served with white rice. Loaded with succulent pieces of meat and lots of earthy spice, the gumbo was by far the most Cajun of the items that we tried that day.
Damian’s distinguishes its traditional entrées and sides with unexpected little twists of flavor, which is probably why it has earned such a passionate word-of-mouth following so quickly. Just remember to show up early and get in line. Otherwise there might not be anything left.
Damian’s Cajun Soul Café
185 S Watson Rd, Arlington. 817-649-7770. Closed Sun-Mon, 11am-4pm Tue-Sat.
All major credit cards accepted.
Barbecue pork ribs …… $8.99
Fried pork chop ………… $7.49
Smothered beef tips …. $7.49
Chicken, sausage, and shrimp gumbo … $7.49