By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
Casing the joint The Malverne spot is big, it isn't easy to find. Located between the railroad station and the police station, it can still be hard to spot for those not familiar with Malverne. This place is everything that Whitestone isn't: one large room with about 20 booths and tables so you don't have to suck in your stomach every time you get up from your seat. Plus, there's actually a bar. With nothing but a service bar in Whitestone I always felt that place should have a closet like the ones opening onto Bourbon Street that just sell Hurricanes. For the first few years in Queens, despite the place's name, the only jazz found was cooked into the wonderful food. Both branches now feature jazz on most nights, but not on Saturdays.
What we ate Usually, the best way to test a Cajun food place is to check out the basics like gumbo. Here, you have two spicy choices: chicken and andouille gumbo ($6) or seafood gumbo ($7). Both are heady concoctions, and each is so satisfying that, when enjoyed with terrific warm mini-corn and bran muffins and soft pan bread, a less-than-voracious eater may decide to stop right there. Another appetizer in the same category is tasso and shrimp ravioli ($7). Tasso, which is Cajun bacon, blends perfectly with shrimp as the delectable filling for four large ravioli casings in a pink, creamy tomato sauce. Special appetizers such as alligator don't taste like the proverbial chicken when enlivened by the spicy mustard sauce. The first time I ordered the chicken jambalaya ($18), I knew Van Gelder had spent time at K-Paul's. The way the jambalaya is presented gives it away. Instead of a bowl of rice with tomatoes and sausage and chicken mixed in like you find in most places, the jambalaya here comes separated. A mound of rice, a whole andouille sausage and a boneless chicken breast sit on the plate. Your mouth combines the dish as you eat it. The chicken etouffé ($14), delicious chicken medallions in gravy with mashed potatoes, is a perfect introduction to Cajun for the food babies in your party. And the chicken Tchopitoulas Street ($15) could become a favoriteit's chicken roulade over chopped roasted potatoes, mushrooms and tasso ham in a béarnaise sauce. Specials often include acorn squash stuffed with seafood and seasonal seafood such as soft shell crabs or a mess of crawfish. Fresh fish ($16) such as red fish, salmon and especially catfish, can be blackened and therefore spiced to order. Or it can be cooked almost any way you like.
Vegetarian alert Until someone figures out how to make a good blackened portabella or an all-veggie gumbo, try one of the salads or the spaghetti squash primavera ($12) or the roasted vegetable pasta ($13) off the Not So Cajun menu.
Cavity patrol When Cooking With Jazz first opened in Whitestone four of us took a shot and stopped by one Saturday night without reservations. The place was jammed and we couldn't be accommodated. Steve suggested we come back later that night to try the bananas Foster. We did and we were forever hooked. A large plate of sliced bananas in an ultra-sweet sauce made from rum, banana liquer and brown sugar surrounds a mound of vanilla ice cream. We have trouble ordering anything else for dessert, although I once forced myself to have the pecan-pumpkin pie ($5) and think about it fondly when I'm ordering the bananas Foster again and again. Chicory coffee completes the trip down South.
Damage If you split an appetizer and the bananas Foster, like we do, and considering that the entrees are in the $15 neighborhood, you can get away for a little over $20 a person before alcohol, tax and tip. But how do you resist a Blackened Voodoo Beer or a bottle of Dixie beer?