Gator Raid

Restaurant's Cajun food is lukewarm

Catfish courtbouillon also makes waiting easier. Currently, it's only available on Fridays, but hopefully Mondo will find it in his heart to cook it up every day. This version of the famous French dish substitutes dark brown roux (cooked flour and fat) for olive oil, then tosses in big chunks of meaty catfish, celery, tomato, onion, green pepper and lusty spices. After long, slow simmering, a bright orange, heady sauce emerges, good for dipping with Voodoo's unfortunately sodden garlic French bread.

Weak bread is a downfall of gumbo, too. We need a better vehicle for sopping the soupy seafood stew, stocked with large shrimp, crab, oysters, sausage bits and chopped veggies. The broth is satisfyingly robust on its own, but a few splashes of Pain and Suffering put it over the top.

Hot sauce is an absolute must for Voodoo's red beans and rice, however. The tooth-tender kidney beans cooked with onion and ham hock are fine. Andouille sausage and al dente white rice are fine. But fine loses its flair pretty quickly without the peppery bite. Jambalaya, too, benefits greatly from a dance with the sauce bottle. Usually, this is a more complex creation of ham, chopped vegetables, chicken, sausage, shrimp and tomato, but not here. The paella-like dish tastes mostly of cooked-down rice and tomato, with a few chunks of andouille and chicken thrown in.

Voodoo Daddy's dishes are a passable introduction to Cajun cooking.
Leah Fasten
Voodoo Daddy's dishes are a passable introduction to Cajun cooking.

Location Info

Map

Voodoo Daddy's Magic Kitchen & Bar

1706 E. Warner Road
Tempe, AZ 85284

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Tempe

Details

Appetizers:
Oysters Bienville: market price

Entrees:
Fried turkey po'boy: $5.95
Catfish courtbouillon: $7.95
Alligator sauce piquante: $12.95
Grilled game hen: $10.95
Seafood platter: $15.95

Dessert:
Bread pudding: $2.95

Hours: Lunch and dinner, Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

1706 East Warner, Tempe, 480-897-8660.

There's nothing lacking in Voodoo's Thanksgiving bird, though. Acadians have an interesting way of treating turkey -- they like to deep fry it. It sounds as if it would be a greasy monstrosity, but when shucked of skin, the peanut oil process leaves the bird remarkably tender and juicy. Here, thick slices come with acceptable corn bread dressing and sadly unremarkable golden gravy. It's better as a hot po'boy, the Cajun version of a hero sandwich. The meal requires two hands and then some to handle the sturdy French bread canoe stuffed with white and dark meat turkey chunks, chopped onion and gravy. It's not your low-cal turkey sandwich, just a wickedly wonderful mushy mess.

Diners can order Cornish game hen deep fried, too, but why fiddle with an already wonderful poultry specimen? The Cajun-spiced half-hen is succulent when simply grilled after being marinated and butterflied.

Deep-fried flair shows up again with the seafood platter, thanks to a light hand with cornmeal. The catfish is delicious, light and moist. The four big shrimp are good, too, until a bite leaves a long string of vein. I'd pass on the oysters and frog legs, too. Too-strong, briny bivalves are slimy; frog legs are anorexic and mealy.

The same trouble occurs with oysters Bienville, named for the founder of New Orleans. The half-dozen critters look pretty on their bed of rock salt, but are frighteningly harsh under their dry topping of Parmesan and Italian breadcrumbs. And where is the Chardonnay, the whipping cream, the butter, the garlic, the diced vegetables that complete this classic dish?

All's okay with another popular New Orleans snack, the muffaletta sandwich (trivia -- it originated in the 1800s when Italian merchants working in New Orleans put broken olives from the bottom of barrels on round Italian bread known as "muffs"). The half size is more than enough for a meal, with soft focaccia stuffed with ham, salami and provolone. The magic comes from the olives, sliced black and pimento-stuffed green, slathered with olive oil. Grab a bunch of paper towels from the roll on your table -- you'll soon be glistening in oil, too.

A Cajun prime rib po'boy, unfortunately, doesn't make it. The kitchen only has medium-well meat on the day I order it, the spicing is nondescript and the unhappy beef is fatty. Accompanying remoulade sauce is disappointing, too, lacking most of the silky horseradish punch we grew to love at Baby Kay's. This is more like mildly spiced mayonnaise. The best part of the dish, actually, is the vinegary, peppery homemade potato chips served alongside.

For dessert, bread pudding's an authentic Louisiana sweet. Voodoo's tastes better than it looks, camouflaging moist raisin-studded confection, pecans and a high-octane whiskey sauce in a drab, beige package.

Even given Voodoo's better dishes, and despite the crocodilian caveats, it's inevitable diners are going to want to try alligator, I suppose. The best introduction, although pricey at $6.95 for four mid-size chunks, is Voodoo's alligator bites appetizer. Here's the chewy, fishy flesh in its pure form, masked only with a delightful cornmeal coat and tangy tartar sauce.

I expect the Valley will be welcoming even more New Orleans-style restaurants fairly soon. And when the kitchen is cranking, Voodoo Daddy's is a passable introduction to Cajun cooking. Just be ready to hit the hot sauce -- this gator's got no bite.

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