Only a few weeks old, the Cajun Kitchen Café brings its blend of Lousiana-style breakfast and lunch cuisine to Main Street. A Santa Barbara staple, the Cajun Kitchen’s new location in Ventura is its seventh on the Central Coast and a welcome sight for this city’s early risers.
In most cities I’ve lived, a handful of diners serve as breakfast landmarks. They are destinations for early-morning meetings, bleary-eyed socializing and lazy post-overnight-date flirting. Each town tends to have a few of these locations, each with its own die-hard loyalists. They’re loyalists for a reason, one succinctly summarized by my mother, Wendy.
“If you want to meet a friend or business associate for a weekday breakfast, you really don’t want to think about it,” she said. “You don’t want to think, ‘this place is so cutesy, greasy, hippie, expensive’ — etc. You want eggs or biscuits or sausage or toast, not pretense, for breakfast.”
In this city, Midtown rules the coffee and egg set. Downtown’s breakfast pickings are slim. A few joints draw breakfast crowds, but none really feel like great morning hangouts.
On the other hand, the Cajun Kitchen has potential. There’s something about a Cajun twist on breakfast I love and the Cajun kitchen brought back fond memories rooming with a guy born in New Orleans, taking a few trips to the Big Easy, and haunting a breakfast place in Portland, Maine called the Bayou Kitchen.
Six hours after breakfast I’m still stuffed and satisfied by my scrambled eggs with blackened lemon chicken sausage, huge bowl of grits and a large, savory homemade biscuit. At $7 for a very generous helping I can’t argue, especially with the unique spices of the sausage, well seasoned so neither the spice nor the meat were dominant flavors.
Meanwhile, my mother was clearly thrilled by her $6.85 Cajun Veggie Omelet, especially its abundance of fresh vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini and mushrooms (it also had cheddar cheese). The wheat toast tasted authentic and not mass produced, she said, and she was eager to try some of the many other vegetarian breakfast options.
Later in the day, in fact, she returned to the Cajun Kitchen to meet a friend for lunch. The friend ordered the blackened catfish plate, which came with rice and vegetables. He also noted the freshness of the vegetables, and, more importantly, said his catfish was lightly spiced and tasted “just right.”
At lunch, Mom tried the gumbo, which without tomatoes and okra was unlike the gumbo she’s used to, but she said it still felt it was authentic. Instead, it featured a spicy brown broth, “excellent” sausage and chicken. It didn’t even matter that she apparently forgot to order the seafood gumbo as she had intended before the meal.
“I guess it was so good I didn’t notice,” she said.
Each of their lunches also came with either biscuits or cornbread. As noted previously, I was a fan of the soft, rich biscuits. Mom didn’t complain about the cornbread but said it wasn’t memorable, either. Reports from another friend about the Shrimp Po Boy weren’t particularly enthusiastic either, but I hold out hope.
Perhaps our only strong complaint was the weak, somewhat flavorless coffee we drank at breakfast. One would think a New Orleans-style place would at least offer a good dark roast, if not the coffee and chicory combo used for Café Au Lait. In fact, Café Au Lait was not on the menu although beer, wine and mimosas all are available for between $2.75 and $3.95 (Cajun Kitchen also offers Bloody Marys).
Our service was friendly and attentive without being annoying. The atmosphere at the former site of the Allegria Wine Bar is light and airy, with nice brown booths and beautiful copper-colored chairs at the tables. The Cajun Kitchen has also kept Allegria’s outdoor patio in back.
Other lunch choices include burgers, Lousiana-style and traditional American sandwiches, jambalya, crawfish etouffée and other New Orleans specialities.
For breakfast, home fries and hashbrowns can be substituted for the grits, and English muffins, tortillas, homemade blueberry or bran muffins, and cornbread can be had instead of toast or biscuits. Indeed, there are dozens of omelets and other breakfast specialties that I am eager to return for (including the “Cajun Pizza” and the gumbo omelet).