I’ve never understood how an area so close to Louisiana could have so few quality Cajun/Creole restaurants – especially considering the deluge of people who streamed into North Texas after Katrina ravaged the Bayou. Of course, you could say that New Mexican cuisine is also vastly underrepresented, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that the ’Nawlins culinary tradition is far more exalted and revered.
Until recently, I couldn’t name you one Fort Worth Cajun or Creole eatery that I’d consider to be a destination restaurant, except maybe The Blu Crab Seafood House & Bar (6115 Camp Bowie Blvd, 817-763-8585). For the last few years, the Westside Cajun joint has soared above the other local purveyors of its kind, its title unchallenged. On a tier below, there’s Boo Ray’s of New Orleans (7255 Boat Club Rd, 817-236-6149) and the Eastside’s soulful Destiny’s Cajun Express (3633 E Lancaster Av, 817-274-9800). Although I’ve enjoyed great food at both, chains such as Razzoo’s Cajun Café and Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen were built for the fanny-packed masses and belong on in entirely separate category.
A few months back, a new champion of the Fort Worth Cajun hierarchy emerged. Without question, Tributary Café (2813 Race St, 817-744-8255) is not just the best of the modest, scattered field – it might be the best new restaurant in Fort Worth.
Set in the developing Race Street, Six-Points, River-East, Riverside, Whatever-You-Call-It area, Tributary occupies a converted house on the main drag – a charming, rustic-looking mid-century bungalow with hardwood floors, a comfy banquet, and sunlight pouring in through arched windows. The focus of the main dining room is a cozy, unpretentious bar with a few beer taps and chalkboard menus. The décor is sparse but successfully lives in the space between unpretentious and kitschy. The sunny back patio is plush with comfy wood tones.
The menu offers authentic Cajun classics elevated by quality of the ingredients and Chef Cindy Crowder-Wheeler’s rich, developed, nuanced flavors, such as the seafood gumbo ($5 a cup) – its roux cooked just short of total darkness and fused with celery and onions, its shrimp, oysters, crab, and okra served plump and fresh without being over-saturated by the broth. The appetizer fried green tomatoes ($8) served with a creamy roasted red bell pepper dressing, lightly fried in a cornmeal batter, were crispy, light, and refreshing.
I admire chefs who aren’t afraid of spices and butter. Crowder-Wheeler’s kitchen is heavy-handed on both fronts. The delicate, chubby mudbugs in the entrée of crawfish étouffée ($16) were drenched in butter with a subtle mix of onions, celery, and piquant peppers. The seasoning on the BBQ Shrimp ($16) was aggressively tangy but not off-putting. The shrimp were plentiful and perfectly cooked, with the shell still on, which locked in the crustacean’s natural sweetness. For dessert, the decadently rich bread pudding ($6.50) was chock full of toasted pecans and slathered in a sweet-but-not-cloying praline sauce.
I don’t know why there aren’t more Cajun/Creole places in town, but maybe potential restaurateurs were just waiting to see how it’s done. And now they can.