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Beck's Cajun Cafe


rlibkind
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Want a muffaletta, or a Po' Boy? You can get them now at the Reading Terminal Market with the opening this past Monday of Beck's Cajun Café.

Alas, no beignets yet. Bill Beck, the proprietor, said he wasn't told when he ordered his mixer that it was on back order, but it is. So we'll have to wait to try this version of sweet fried dough.

She Who Must Be Obeyed and I visited the market today to sample Beck's fare. SWMBO ordered the muffaletta, I opted for the Oyster Po'Boy.

I didn't ask Bill where he got his bread, but the hoagie-style roll for the Po' Boy and the round, sesame seeded muffaletta bread were both excellent. (I can't compare to what you'd get in New Orleans, since I've never been there.) Although I generally like my hoagie rolls with a thin crispy crust, the soft-style long and round rolls were good protein holders.

SWMBO enjoyed the muffaletta, but she prefers the pressed style of this sandwich. Bill explained he modeled his on the version found at Central Grocery in New Orleans, which claims to be the home of this sandwich; Central's versions, and Beck's, is an unpressed sandwich filled with cold fixings. And the fixings are very good, indeed: mortadella, salami, tasso ham and aged provolone with a New Orleans style vinaigrette and adorned with an olive salad. And the sandwich is huge. The $8.95 "half" sandwich easily fills up two hearty eaters. SWMBO didn't eat half of a half; we took the remainder home and will press it on the stove between two cast iron skillets for lunch tomorrow.

Of course, the muffaletta is nothing more than a variant on the hero, sub or hoagie, something you'll find in any Italian-American community. The difference, to my mind, is in the breads and the garnishes. The olive salad on Beck's was superb, a mix of what seemed to be two or three different olives, including one that actually has a reddish cast.

My $7.59 Fried Oyster Po' Boy was a bit less massive, though it easily could feed two lighter eaters. The six large oysters were expertly fried with a breading of panko. They sat atop a hoagie style roll slathered in remoulade and garnished with lettuce and tomato.

If you're a root beer fan, be sure to order a bottle of the Abita root beer. It's a strong, herbal brew that will satisfy your root beer cravings. Just a whiff of it satisfies.

We also added the Cajun fries, which were tasty potato wedges spiked with onions and something to give them heat (maybe Tabasco or Crystal?).

Service at the counter (which seats about a dozen, I'd guess) was personable and fast.

Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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Bob:

How does the Oyster Po' Boy stand up to the version at Oyster House? Have you had one yet? I'm working lunch on Saturday if you'd like to stop in and go for the compare-and-contrast. I'm curious because I think ours is pretty darned good.

I haven't seen Bill Beck in about 15 years, since he was the proprietor and my boss at the ill fated Pompano Grill that used to house the southeast corner of Passyunk Avenue and Bainbridge where the PNC Bank now stands. Hopefully time and experience have provided him with more wisdom in business decision making practices since then. I wish him the best of luck with the new venture. I'm certainly thrilled to have another alternative for good Cajun food that doesn't require driving all the way to Cajun Kate's and is open on days I can actually make it there. I'm in RTM often enough shopping that it'll be nice to try this place out.

Edited by KatieLoeb (log)

Katie M. Loeb
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  • 2 weeks later...

Bleh.

I really wanted to like Beck's, partly because the people working the counter were super-nice, and partly because I simply wanted access to a bowl of gumbo, or a po boy, or a muffuletta, without driving almost all the way to Delaware, during the few hours that Cajun Kate's is open...

And things looked promising: the menu is appealing, the stuff on display looked attractive. Like, this is a great-looking muffuletta, isn't it?

Becks-Mufulatta.jpg

As Bob posted above, the bread is very good, and pretty close to the roll one finds at the Central Grocery in New Orleans - a little crustier, airier, but not a bad stand-in at all. And the fillings look right: Italian cold-cuts, cheese, olive salad. So why was it so bland? I mean, it was an OK sandwich, but it had none of the spark of a typical muffuletta (yes, I've had one from Central Grocery.)

The only thing I can figure is that the meats they're using are just more blah. There certainly did seem to be a higher percentage of mortadella and plain ham compared to the more vibrant salamis (and I saw no evidence of tasso...)

Here's one from Central Grocery in New Orleans:

NO-Muffuletta4.jpg

As you can see, the assembly looks pretty much the same as the Beck's version, but the Central Grocery version has more salami (it's really killer salami too!) less of the mellower cold cuts. And while the Beck's version had a decent layer of olive salad, it somehow wasn't standing out like it should. There either wasn't enough of it, or it wasn't as intensely-flavored as the version they use at the Central Grocery, or the flavor is getting sucked-up by the bulkier bread. It definitely wasn't quite as oily or messy as the original, I suppose it's a matter of opinion whether that's good or bad!

Anyway the Beck's muffuletta is an OK sandwich, but it doesn't provide the thrill that the original does. It needs more intense salami and more olive flavor.

But OK, how about gumbo? They had run out of the chicken and andouille that I was hoping to try, but had "gator gumbo."

Becks-Gumbo.jpg

That turned out to be made with gator sausage, not pieces of gator, and that's fine, except that this particular sausage was pretty dull. Beck's makes a big deal about importing ingredients from Louisiana but this particular sausage, at least cooked into a gumbo, doesn't taste like much of anything. The bigger problem is that the gumbo was missing that deep-dark roux flavor, and the onions and celery and peppers that make up the essential "holy trinity" of flavorings were still whole, barely cooked, not integrated into the murky essence of the liquid. As a result, the gumbo broth was not especially intense, it needed more... everything. It's also kind of a lot of rice for the amount of gumbo.

And...Jambalaya.

Becks-Jambalaya.jpg

This too was missing the deep flavors and spice that one hopes for in this particular dish. In its place was a disorienting prevalence of Italian spices, like oregano and rosemary. Especially with the dollop of tomato sauce that was on the top for some reason, we couldn't help thinking that we were having spaghetti sauce on rice. The Andouille sausage in this was, again, way too tame. I suppose it's luck of the draw sometimes, but this serving had exactly one shrimp in it. A couple small pieces of chicken were hiding in there too, but it was mostly rice and tomato sauce.

So, we were pretty disappointed. I'm certainly going to try again once they get a little more settled, but I don't think these were execution problems, they were conceptual ones. And it's certainly possible that it's not that they're doing anything wrong, that it's just not to my taste. There's nothing to say that a muffuletta has to taste exactly like Central Grocery's version, in fact there's plenty of debate among New Orleans natives about who makes the best version, whether it should be hot or cold, etc. And gumbo is different from every kitchen. People have different preferences in level of spice. All I can say is that I did not leave Becks craving more of any of the things we sampled. And I do continually crave gumbos I've had in New Orleans, and the ones at Cajun Kate's, and Po Boys from Parkway, and more...

I'd certainly be interested in hearing more opinions, but at least from this sampling, Becks' isn't satisfying my almost constant desire for gumbo and po boys and muffulettas...

Edited by philadining (log)

"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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Granted I have not tried anything at Beck's yet, so take my opinion with a grain of salt.

My beef with the jambalaya is that it did not even look remotely like it should when we walked by. It actually looked more like the rice that they serve as a side dish at most Mexican places with tomato sauce glopped on in places...not at all appetizing. Where was the shrimp or the andoille sausage? I don't know. Granted my expectations may be too high because my wife makes a wicked jambalaya whose recipe is from a relative of mine who is the spouse of a former restaurant owner in New Orleans, but just the look of it made me wince.

Anyway, I am looking forward to trying the beignets, since that is something we don't cook up at home. Hopefully Beck's machine part will arrive soon (where's it coming from anyway?) and they will model their recipe on either Cafe Du Monde or Morning Call in NOLA so it is decent.

I guess their plate is too full to attempt a debris sandwich from Mothers or a burger from Camellia?

2596701958_6ccf22f57a.jpg

I do think that Beck's is a unique and great addition to the Market and I hope to satisfy my beignet craving soon.

Edited by Bluehensfan (log)
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I am compelled to add that the "gator gumbo" is way-way-way too thick to pass as gumbo; it isn't supposed to lay over the rice as a separate layer. Gumbo is a liquid dish. In my stretch of the bayou, we'd call the pictured "gumbo" a stew, and if it is packed with tomatos and spice (as it appears to be), it's called a sauce piquante. And alligator sauce piquante is a noble and delicious dish; it's just not gumbo.

Edited by HungryC (log)
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Hungry C - no tomatoes in the Gator Gumbo, but you're right, it had more the texture of a sauce picante, or perhaps an étoufée. They were also serving crawfish étoufée that day and we got a little sample of that, but decided not to order a whole portion because it just didn't taste like anything...

Bluehensfan - yes, I could go for a Ferdi Special, or straight-up debris po boy... maybe we should ask the Becks folks if they could make that someday.

"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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