Sunday, December 03, 2006

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.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Adrienne said...

Speaking of weird Texas road things -- have you tried to merge onto I-35 from the lower deck yet? That'll make you take up drinking.

December 04, 2006 9:35 AM  
Blogger Maureen McHugh said...

Adienne, I have to say, the Austin freeway system is not for anyone with a fear of heights.

December 04, 2006 10:16 AM  
Anonymous adrienne said...

Have you done the Mopac/360/Cap. Texas Hwy flyover yet? Yesh. I get all queasy just thinking about it.

I left Austin a good 10 years ago and just figured that particular stretch of road couldn't be that horrifying. Was back not long ago and, in fact, it is.

Yeeeeg.

December 04, 2006 3:56 PM  
Blogger Maureen McHugh said...

Adrienne, my husband works in sight of that particular exchange and in fact, I drove it just yesterday. It's, um, pretty amazing.

Luckily, I like heights.

December 04, 2006 8:13 PM  
Anonymous Katharine Beutner said...

This place sounds lovely -- thank you for writing about it! If you get over to East Austin any time, you might want to try Gene's (good oyster poboys) or Nubian Queen Lola's (the owner sounds amazing, though I haven't tried the food).

It's also fascinating to see what Austin looks like from the north-side/car-having point of view. I've lived in South Austin and various points near campus, and I get around by bike/bus/taxi/feet, so the wacky freeway system affects my Austin lifestyle hardly at all. I can't imagine trying to deal with it while still finding your way around! I hope it all goes swimmingly.

December 06, 2006 11:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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March 24, 2009 2:18 AM  

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