WARR ACRES — What better time to have your faith restored than right before the Lenten season. Though an epiphany about fried catfish and buffets might not pay the toll to enter the pearly gates, it'll do for Mardi Gras, and praise be to Cajun King, 5816 NW 63, for showing the light back to a couple of forgotten delights.
Yes, I did my time at a handful of local Chinese buffets through the 1990s, but after a few visits to Grand House, Fung's Kitchen, Golden Phoenix and Pho Lien Hoa, my Chinese buffet daze came to an end.
In the Texas Hill Country, where I grew up, all-you-can-eat catfish parlors, barns and cabins are outnumbered only by Tex-Mex cantinas and barbecue pits. The standard catfish emporium is centered on fillets densely breaded in cornmeal served by the barrel. Oklahoma has no shortage of these kinds of establishments. My tolerance for this heavy-handed approach to catfish ended before my mullet reached shoulder-length.
That's not to say I quit on it completely, but catfish got the same kind of treatment as turtlenecks, Steve Miller CDs and “Cheers” reruns. That is, until I tried the Catfish Amandine at Cajun King.
“I want the catfish to be light,” chef Ken Mills, a New Orleans native, said. “I want it to melt in your mouth like butter.”
Melt it does but not before a pass through the sweet-and-spicy Creole mustard called tiger sauce, if you're smart.
Neither the catfish nor the beignets are served on the buffet but rather to your table. While you're waiting you'll find a buffet that includes Cajun staples such as dirty rice, blackened pork chops along with Southern favorites such as collard greens and potatoes. You'll also find some of the best fried chicken in town along with Cajun pasta and bread pudding. The collard greens are true soul food, flavored with all the goodness the Lord gave from Brother Pig. The potatoes derive salt from the same source. Pork is a common theme along the buffet, which makes sense for this concept.
Low simmering only enhances the flavor the jambalaya, gumbo, crawfish etouffee and saucy white and red beans. Meanwhile, the fried chicken and blackened pork chops disappear so quickly, they're constantly being refreshed.
What I haven't mentioned is the value. At $8.99 for lunch and $9.99 for dinner, the value is among the city's best.
So popular has Cajun King been that Mills and his partner, Simeon Adda, recently reached a lease agreement for a second location in Norman. The new Cajun King will be in the building on Ed Noble Parkway where many restaurants failed before it, including Bellini's and Pearl's.
“The landlord told me it'd been five different restaurants,” Mills said. “I told them that didn't scare me, because if that hadn't happened, I wouldn't have this opportunity.”
Mills hopes to have the location open by summer.
The current location is in a strip mall where Godfather's Pizza once thrived. The atmosphere is minimalist to be kind, but that's not the focus.
When he asked our photographer David McDaniel about some of the best barbecue joints he's visited around the state, McDaniel asked if he preferred atmosphere or flavor.
Mills responded, “Atmosphere? Who cares about atmosphere. It's all about flavor.”