Return of the Ragin Cajun [restaurant review]
I have never actually seen Brigadoon, but have absorbed the story from pop culture references: the name of the mythical village has become a slang term for anything that disappears and reappears erratically. I’ve heard the term bandied about with regard to a particular restaurant, the Ragin Cajun, which recently reopened in Redondo after serving at two different locations in Hermosa.
In the 1947 play and subsequent film the village of Brigadoon is unchanging, which cannot be said of the restaurant. The first location on Pier Avenue was a modestly sized place that served beer and wine, the second an uneasy collaboration with a bar and grill that served a somewhat more limited menu. The new restaurant is easily twice the size of the former locations, with more ambitious decorative touches. There’s a bit of Disneyland in the whimsical Cajun shack along the wall, but the exuberant collection of Louisiana kitsch stops short of being tacky and contributes to the atmosphere.
My first visit was for lunch and a fried catfish po-boy sandwich. This was up to the standard of the old days on Pier Avenue, and I also tried a new item that was even better: a “Bayou bisque” made with chicken, corn, and sausage. This creamy, delicately spicy soup raised my expectations for the restaurant and showed that there is some creativity in the new kitchen.
I decided to return a few evenings later with someone who had been somewhat skeptical that the new
place could match his memories of the old. We were dismayed at first because the dining room seemed very loud; some trick of acoustics makes the area right by the entrance the loudest place in the restaurant. Once inside it’s more pleasant, and there’s a front patio for those who like fresh air end quiet surroundings.
We decided to dine indoors at a corner far from the bar, where cheers of excitement and groans of anguish over a football game made conversation difficult. A cheerful server named Zack recommended the fried alligator appetizer, and we also ordered a cup of gumbo and a pair of glasses of wine.
The alligator chunks had been deep-fried in a tasty breading that made me wish this restaurant offered fried chicken; it had just enough seasoning to keep things interesting, and the gator tail chunks were tender and flavorful. It was served with a spicy cocktail sauce, but we decided it would be more interesting to sample all four of the house brand sauces at the table. The raspberry chipotle was tangy but didn’t fit the flavor of the gator – I’d happily have it with something else, like a plain meat of vegetable. The pepper sauce was a milder version of the hot sauce, which resembles Tabasco, Cajun Country’s best known product, but we both agreed the clear winner was the spicy garlic sauce.
The gumbo was the old favorite, spicy and smoky with plenty of chicken and sausage, a dusting of chopped green onion adding fresh sharpness. The thick soup with rice and meat is very filling, and a cup of this with bread is a good light meal.
We had ordered entrees too, crabmeat-stuffed snapper and a new item called Cajun Bacon. The name is misleading – instead of bacon it was pork belly that had been smoked and slow cooked, and it was nowhere near as fatty as bacon. The meat was flawlessly moist and tender, and a mild spice rub added to the flavor. Cajun Bacon started as a daily special but is now a permanent item, and it’s worth asking for; it’s one of the best items I’ve ever had at the Ragin Cajun in any location.
I was a bit less happy with my stuffed snapper due to a miscommunication with my server. The snapper is offered with crawfish etoufee as an “add,” and I requested it because I liked the idea of trying the two flavors. It turned out that an “add” here means they pour the crawfish stew on top of the snapper, not serve it on the side, and I wished this had been explained. The resulting dish was tasty, but the crawfish had a spicier flavor than the snapper and crab, so it got a bit lost in the mix. Now that I know this, I can order it the way I want it next time.
The seafood came with hush puppies – good ones served nice and hot – plus coleslaw and potato salad. The Cajun bacon usually also comes with slaw, but the person who ordered it doesn’t like slaw and asked if anything else was available. He was offered sautéed green beans instead, and now that I’ve tried those I’m going to order that side too – it was a mix of green and wax beans with carrot with a hint of garlic, and very tasty.
We had just enough room to split a piece of pecan pie, which as made in-house and was superb. I had been a bit wary because sometimes pecan pie is overly sweet, but this had a fine crust and tasted more of the nuts than of sugar.
Dinner for two, with two glasses of wine, ran $86.00 – and we had ordered two of the most expensive items, so it could have been a lot less. We also might have spent a little more if we had investigated the mixed drinks at the moonshine bar in the back; they make all the standard drinks plus some regional specialties. Bourbons and moonshines – the latter are unaged whiskies, not actual illegal booze – are specialties, but they also make a very decent rum grog or a Sazerac. Whatever you have, you might feel inclined to stay a while in the cheerful atmosphere of a reincarnated Southern roadhouse. The Ragin Cajun is back, and here’s hoping they stay put for a while so we don’t have to go looking for them again.
The Ragin Cajun is at 525 South Pacific Coast Highway in Redondo. Open daily 11 am-10 pm, parking lot or street parking, wheelchair access good. Full bar, corkage $10, some vegetarian items. Menu at ragincajun.com, phone 310-540-7403.