PICTURED: Shrimp Po’Boy sandwich with fries. Photo by N. Lackey Shaffer
by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer
Cajun Country Cafe
665 S. Ventura Road, Oxnard
If you love seafood, spice, sausage and rice, then the cuisine of New Orleans is for you. From rich gumbos to hearty jambalaya to fried catfish and red beans and rice, the food of the Big Easy is world famous for big flavor.
For fans of this very distinctive regional cuisine, loaded with Cajun and Creole influence, you’ll be happy to learn that Oxnard has recently become the home of Cajun Country Cafe. Opened by chef Jace Martyn in October, it’s already become a big hit — no small feat considering how pandemic restrictions have hampered the local restaurant industry. Luckily for Martyn, the cafe has become a popular destination for takeout orders of Po’Boy sandwiches (numerous options, by land and by sea), fish, chicken, gumbo, jambalaya, chili and the occasional barbecue dish.
I recently took my family to this small eatery (in the same shopping center as Aldi on Ventura Road) for an indulgent lunch out. The footprint is quite small; most of the space is devoted to the kitchen, and even if indoor dining was allowed, there wouldn’t be room for more than a few tables inside. Outside, there were two small tables on the sidewalk (this was prior to the current stay-at-home order). Martyn was happy to let us take over both of these to dine on site, wiping everything down before we sat. It was pretty clear, however, by the number of people who came and went over the span of about an hour, that to-go was the name of the game here.
I love Southern-style food of all sorts, and was committed to trying everything I could on the menu. For myself: a large order of jambalaya. For my shellfish-loving preteen: a shrimp Po’Boy with fries. A rib plate with collard greens and macaroni and cheese was perfect for the barbecue fanatic. We rounded things out with a dozen hush puppies and some peach cobbler.
There wasn’t a single dish I wouldn’t order again.
New Orleans’ famous rice dish, jambalaya, was a very satisfying combination of grains, spices and tasty bites of chicken and spicy sausage. While this preparation was more of a side dish — it didn’t come laden with a lot of meat, for example — I can’t deny that it made for a flavorful and filling lunch all on its own, the seasoning long and deep.
The barbecue spare ribs were tender, meaty and plentiful, slathered in Martyn’s own rich, sticky, sweet and smoky sauce. The very definition of finger-licking good! That sauce was addictive; Martyn should really bottle it. I’m not a fan of collard greens myself, but my husband adores them — and he gave them high marks. We all appreciated the homemade mac and cheese side dish as well.
And we were all happy to help out with the excellent Po’Boy, too. It included a sliced French roll that was absolutely loaded with fresh, plump shrimp deep fried to perfection, plus a helping of lettuce, sliced tomato, pickles and mayonnaise. So delicious! I doubt any one of us could have finished that enormous sandwich on our own, but as everyone was eager to try a bite . . . well, there were no leftovers by the end.
Same with the hush puppies. For those unfamiliar, these are small fried balls of seasoned corn meal batter — something of a cross between a donut and cornbread. If you’re counting calories or carbs, beware. But if you’re willing to accept the consequences, the subtle sweetness and crunchy golden-brown goodness of a hush puppy is a wonderful complement to fish, sandwiches, stews and the like. Cajun Country Cafe does this fried Southern specialty proud; not a doughy or burnt ball in the bunch.
We’re a group that can usually find room for dessert. So we loosened our belts to dig into Cajun Country Cafe’s homemade peach cobbler. Peaches aren’t in season this time of year, but no matter: Martyn and his team managed to create a cobbler with sweet, soft peaches, a hint of cinnamon and a delicate crust. Probably better during the summer, when stone fruit is at the peak of ripeness, but I will not complain.
“Fat and happy” is the phrase that comes to mind when I reflect on our Southern feast from Cajun Country Cafe. It was a joy to gorge on this handcrafted, homestyle fare from someone who is intimately familiar with New Orleans-style cooking. If I had family in Louisiana, I imagine I’d have something very like what Martyn and his staff prepared for us. As soon as my waistline can accommodate a return trip, I intend to take one.