I confess, I don’t like Oak St. much. It’s t0o narrow for two lanes to comfortably drive, it’s difficult to park even though the sidewalks feel eerily deserted, and the hodge podge of shops and restaurants (with the exception of Squeal BBQ when it was good) has never tempted me enough to tolerate the rest of the experience.
But alas, I found myself there last week assisting a friend with the build-out of a new microbrewery setting up shop in the small space adjacent to DTB (which is back open for dinner). The Oak St. Brewery will be opening in the coming month or two, and that should make for a nice dinner-and-a-drink combo at the Dublin St. intersection.
I had two days in the neighborhood for the project, and was looking forward to using my lunches to hit a few places I haven’t been yet. Thankfully, there’s only a handful in walking distance, as these new dining restrictions make unplanned meals borderline unbearable for me. Trying to figure out who’s open and how, coupled with my standard crippling inability to decide where to eat (or anything really), scarcely makes the meal even worth it.
But, our brewer client is friendly and was happy to impart his knowledge of the neighborhood spots to us. He reminded me that the new Ajun Cajun was open, and that was good enough for me.
It seems a shame to try a new place under the current restrictions. In this particular instance, though, there wasn’t much left to lose in the atmosphere department to begin with. The tented outdoor seating area provides an excellent alternative to sitting inside the dark cavern that houses Ajun Cajun.
It is...a strange space. Bright green walls rise up to meet the lowest ceiling one could imagine possible for a commercial space, and a web of caution tape now ropes off an aisle separating the four tables currently available for seating.
A floor-t0-ceiling chalkboard--their menu--greets you just inside the door. It’s filled completely with their extensive list of creative Japanese fusion dishes. We both leap with excitement at the presence of a ramen menu, until we see the note “Not available for To-Go”. Damn. I’ll have to come back. And find another parking space.
We stood catatonic in the doorway for another seven minutes or so, trying to process the available-for-to-go information. My dining companion was enthused to learn their poor boys are served on Dong Phuong bread. Yes, poor boys. They are true to the “Cajun” in their name, serving a wide selection of poor boys, both traditional and Asian fusion, as well as several fried seafood platters, and a gumbo.
But we both settled on the “Ajun” options and got the Oyoko Donburi, a chicken, egg, and rice dish, and the Shrimp Yakisoba, made with pan-fried noodles and vegetables. We threw in a seaweed salad, broccoli salad, and a side of the Ajun Cajun Chicken, just to see what that could possibly be.
The food here is still being served in to-go containers, which worked out well in this case since we ordered way too much of it. The noodles were served dangerously hot and loaded with vegetables. They were wheat egg noodles, and thinner than most, which was a delicious detail. All the elements came together perfectly with an evenly saucy, not greasy, coating, and was flavorful enough to cover up the searing mouth flesh.
The Donburi’s presentation was unexpected--the egg was a layer on top, coating the rice like a cheese cap over onion soup. I can’t imagine how they cooked it and slipped it into a takeout container intact. I was hoping for more vegetables, as it was just rice, chicken, and onion under the egg blanket, but the texture of the rice was as perfect as I’ve ever had, and the flavor was a little smoky and excellent.
The Ajun Cajun Chicken was also a surprise, and suited it’s pub-style checkered waxed paper packaging quite appropriately. These are glorified chicken nuggets, but glorified they were. The small chunks are soaked in a garlic sauce, then fried dark and served piping hot. They’d be a great appetizer to share, although we agreed they lacked some sort of dipping sauce. I started dipping them in the pool of ponzu sauce that dressed the broccoli salad, which worked quite well. But I also believe cardboard dipped in ponzu sauce would work quite well, so perhaps this doesn't hold much weight.
I hope they keep the outdoor tables a bit longer, so I can return to try the Cajun part. The mood for Japanese so seldom strikes me that only these well-fried items could entice me back to this part of town, but entice me they will. Let it entice you too; you can be sure you’ll find something on the chalkboard for everyone.