Having recently read in the Food section of the Akron Beacon Journal that David Russo was branching out from his Peninsula-based restaurant, Russo's, I decided after work today to check out his newest food adventure, Cajun Dave's, located in downtown Kent, Ohio. Cajun Dave's is unique in that it isn't its own restaurant, but instead lives inside another Kent establishment, the Water Street Tavern. Located at 138 Water Street, they can also be reached at 330-474-0800.
Once I found a parking spot (there is a free lot just up the street), I finally found what I was looking for:
A shot from the side reveals something important:
There are three ways to order food from Cajun Dave's. If you look closely in the photo above, a window is built into a wooden "door". If you wanted your food to take home, you can simply walk up and order your meal, pay for it, and then collect your bags when the food is ready. You can also use this window if you called ahead to place your order. If you want to actually sit down and enjoy your meal, you walk just a bit further up the street and enter the Water Street Tavern.
Here was a shot of the sign advertising exactly what I had come to Cajun Dave's to try:
Since I came to eat dinner and not simply pick up food to take home, I walked into the Water Street Tavern's entrance just down from the sidewalk sign. Unfortunately, there were no clear indications of exactly how this was supposed to work. I could clearly see plenty of empty tables strewn through the tavern. I could clearly see what looked to be food runners / waitresses. Finally, I could clearly see an opening on the opposite end of the room with the menu posted on the wall above it for Cajun Dave's food. After standing around for about five minutes with nothing happening, I decided to ask someone next to me.
The proper procedure was to walk up and pay for your meal at the window. Then you indicate to the person taking your order where you will be sitting. If you are ordering an adult beverage, you walk over to the bar and get that. Once the food was ready, the food runner / waitress ran it out to your table. I was also a little confused about the tipping ritual as well. Since I paid for my meal with my credit card, when she handed me the slip to sign, there was no spot to leave a tip. There was a tip jar sitting on the counter at the ordering window, however. If you were to leave a couple of dollars at your table when you go to leave, I'm not exactly clear who would be getting it.
So, having figured out exactly what to do in order to get food, I placed my order, retired to a table across the room and eagerly anticipated my food. Here is what came out after about ten minutes:
This is a pulled pork po' boy with what amounts to a horseradish and creole mustard Napa "slaw". This was served on a toasted French bread which was nice and fresh. Here is a shot with the crown removed from the sandwich:
And finally, after I ate half the sandwich, I decided to take a shot from the side to show you the layers:
The sandwich was very good, but not spectacular. Like I mentioned before, the French bread was very fresh and the light toasting to it was a nice touch. It did a really nice job of holding the entire sandwich together. The pulled pork was incredibly juicy and extremely tender. The kitchen had done a nice job of pulling out most of the large chunks of fat from the pork and only once did I have to intervene by removing a piece just a little too large for my taste from my sandwich. The Napa slaw was an excellent idea and the creole mustard and horseradish were definitely mild undercurrents in every bite. However, the reason that this sandwich was very good and not spectacular was because the flavors just didn't "pop" in my mouth. I felt it was seasoned properly, as that usually tends to be the reason why flavors taste flat. Having made pulled pork myself, I'm used to using a fairly aggressive rub which tends to travel throughout the meat during the process of pulling it. Perhaps that is the reason I felt the pork was a little on the flavor-less side.
For $2 more, you can get a side of the fresh cut fries. Yes, yes, gentle reader, I know I have moaned on endlessly in previous blog entries about how limp and greasy previous examples of this foodstuff have been, but Cajun Dave's actually serves up a very good version:
These were crispy and seasoned well, although they clearly had come out of the fryer a couple of minutes before they were served because they were just lukewarm. I'm not sure if they fry them twice at Cajun Dave's, but I am sure that these were very good. I will warn you that the amount of fries you get is easily enough for two people, so if I were eating with someone else, I would only order one and split them.
Not knowing when I would be able to return, I decided to get an order to go, the Muffaletta. The menu describes it as "Italy meets Louisiana- Mortadella, Soprasetta, baked ham, Provolone cheese and Italian olive salad pressed on French Bread". What surprised me was that when I went back up to the counter to order it, the woman taking my order asked me if I wanted it hot or cold. This kind of threw me since I thought that this was always a cold sandwich. In fact, I've heard stories of people getting their sandwiches and letting them sit in the fridge for half a day to let the olive salad really help flavor the bread. I decided on getting mine cold.
Later that night, I opened the take-out container to find this:
This actually disappointed me a little bit. Anytime you send a sandwich "to-go", you should always wrap it in paper to help keep the bread nice and soft. That's just basic sandwich making 101 level knowledge. Nevertheless, the bread wasn't too stale when I finally got around to eating this.
Here is a shot of the side view of the sandwich:
As with the po' boy, Cajun Dave's muffaletta was pretty good. Actually, it's probably one of the better ones I've had in this area, but not quite up to par with the best one I've ever had. The acid in the olive salad did a nice job to help cut the fattiness of the meat. Flavor-wise, think of eating a Italian cold-cut sandwich with provolone cheese, olives, and a bit of vinegar and that's pretty much what you'll be getting here.
Is this the kind of place you would drive more than fifteen minutes out of your way to get to? No, probably not. However, if you happen to be traveling to Kent for some other reason, then this is definitely worth checking out. I know that I will certainly be returning at some point to try out some of the other po' boy sandwiches as well as the gumbo and jambalaya.