Sambet's Cajun Store
The first week I was here, I spent a lot of time doing U-Turns. U-Turns are a feature of Austin life. The major highways like I-35 and 183 have frontage roads that run parallel to them. Grocery stores, restaurants and businesses crowd these three lane frontage roads (where the speed limit is 50 mph, meaning you're going 50 until the guy in front of you stops to turn left into McDonald's.) The frontage roads are only one way, running north alongside the freeway that runs north and south along the freeway that runs south. So inevitably, if you stop somewhere on one of them, you are going to have to figure out how to go under the freeway and back the other way. So there are special U-Turns that whip under the highway and dump you onto the three land frontage road going the OTHER way at 50 mph. It's exciting to go to the grocery.
There's a strip mall near me at McNeil and 183 that is at my intersection so when I saw, tucked in the high grass, one of those signs on wheels where the magnetic letters usually spell out 'Big Sale On Sleeper Sofas' or whatever that there was a place selling Po' Boys and Muffalettas, I was hopeful but cautious. I like New Orleans food. I've never had a bad meal in New Orleans in my life. But the sign looked untended. So I fought my way across traffic and turned into the strip mall.
Sambet's Cajun Store had the front door open, which is weird. Texas seems, like Ohio, to be big on controlled environments. Out front was a white plastic table and four plastic chairs and four middle-aged guys eating stuff out of those red plastic baskets and Styrofoam bowls. The door opened onto a dark looking storefront. My hopes began to rise.
The menu at Sambet's is written on a white board above the counter, and the tables are all shoved together in long rows, so that basically there are three long tables in the crowded storefront. One of the ceiling fans was on the fritz, as was the deli case in the back. But the walls were covered with shelves of hot sauces, beans, spices for crayfish boil, and rice mixes. And the smell.
The owner is a talker. She knows half the clientele and has that wonderful ability to remember that she's seen you before. The mainstay is mufs and Po boys. The sides are chicken and andouille sausage gumbo, jambalaya, dirty rice, shrimp etouffe, and chicken and jalapeno gumbo. The food isn't cheap, lunch will set you back almost ten dollars, but it's good. The gumbo is smoky and rich and thick. She doesn't use okra or file to thicken it (I know, I asked) but it sure tasted good to me. I ordered a lunch of two sides and a hunk of French bread and a soft drink and she handed me a chilled mason jar for the soda fountain. There was blues playing. The room was about half full of guys on their lunch hour.
Since then I've had a couple more of the sides and Bob and I have each had a Po boy. He had a roast beef (covered in gravy and so sloppy to eat it was impossible) and I had the shrimp (chock full of deep fried crispy shrimp with mayo.)
I assume they close the doors and crank up the air conditioner in August.
It was my first food find in this town.