When a reader who hails from Baton Rouge gave us an enthusiastic recommendation for authentic Louisiana-style food in Minnesota, we were skeptical. But Jim Carter’s description of some of his favorite dishes were so mouth-wateringly good, we headed north to his Brooklyn Park favorite to see for ourselves.
After a bit of wandering around a warren of half-empty strip malls, we spotted Crazy Cajun sandwiched in between a hair salon and one of the many empty storefronts. It’s hard to miss the garish, cartoony, cowboy-hat-wearing crawfish in a fire-licked pot festooning the entrance.
As you walk through the door, you’re greeted by a nose-tickling aroma of spice, garlic, and fried food – your first hint that there may be more to this place than meets the eye.
The sign out front and the menu tout seafood and crawfish, and that is what brings customers to Crazy Cajun, and what keeps them coming back. Although he hails from Houston, chef/owner John Nguyen has a long history with Louisiana-style seafood and grew up in the family restaurant business.
He works with some of the same seafood providers his parents once did, carrying on a 30-year relationship which gives Nguyen access to a ready supply of crawfish even as the season draws to a close.
He left the family business behind, and swore he’d never work in a restaurant again, but after a few years, he got the itch to launch what he calls a “next generation” seafood place, one where he uses his mom’s recipes, but gives them his own spin.
Nguyen has a deft way with seafood. The shrimp po-boy was generously stuffed with plump shrimp coated in a flavorful batter and expertly fried. The all-important roll had a gently crunchy crust and fluffy interior, and the add-ons of lettuce, tomato, pickles, and the special house sauce added layers of flavor. Pick your choice of fillings, including shrimp, crawfish, catfish, or oysters; they’re all $10.99.
You can’t not try the catfish in a place like this, and once you do, you’ll be hooked. Once again the deep fryer is put to good use, coaxing golden, crispy goodness from the fish. The catfish is one of the fried basket options, and comes with hush puppies and fries.
At $9.99 for two fillets, it’s a substantial portion. If you’re really hungry, there are also four- and six-fillet options. Ask for a side of the special house sauce for dipping; it’s a little sweet, a little spicy.
The focus here is on the seafood, not the presentation. Both the po-boy and the catfish were served in those paper-lined plastic boats that you associate with burger joints. It’s not fancy, but it sure is good.
The real hit of the evening was the seafood boil. Seafood options include jumbo shrimp, crawfish, snow crab, king crab, blue crab, clams, and mussels. We took advantage of the waning crawfish season, and dug into a spicy, messy feast that came to the table in a plastic bag, accompanied by a large tray.
You empty the contents of the bag onto the tray and commence a very primal eating experience, as you twist the heads off the crawfish and crack open the shell to get at the morsels of seafood inside.
If Nguyen is roaming the dining room, as he is wont to do, ask him for a quick lesson on shelling crawfish. After a quick demo, you’ll be eating crawfish like a pro.
The seafood boil comes with one of those cliché plastic bibs with a huge crab printed on it; at first you will resist wearing it – it’s hard to maintain your hipster cred when wearing a bib, after all. But trust us, it will save you a trip to the dry cleaner.
The crawfish are swimming in an addictive sauce, redolent with garlic, that will drip off your fingers and down your chin. That’s when you realize why every table has a roll of paper towels. You’ll go through about half of one during the course of dinner.
And Nguyen is not messing around with the spice level – we ordered medium, and it packed a lot of heat. “My nail beds are on fire,” exclaimed one of our party after getting down and dirty with the crawfish boil.
Seafood boils are priced according to the market, and availability is based on what’s in season. On our visit, the crawfish boil was $10.99 and the shrimp boil was $12.99.
If you’re an oyster fan, you’ll be thrilled to know that Crazy Cajun offers one of the best oyster specials in town, but only on Thursdays, when you can get a dozen oysters for a mere $14.
On Mondays, you can chow down on all-you-can-eat crawfish for $29.99; Wednesday’s special is a seafood platter for $19.99 (normally $29.99). And other Louisiana specialties are always on offer as well, like gumbo and crawfish etouffee. Oh, and gator.
A cold beer is the perfect accompaniment to most everything on the menu. There are nine brews on tap, more in bottles. There’s also a decent wine list, with all selections available either by the glass or the bottle.
Nguyen says half of his customers come from either Uptown or downtown Minneapolis. So why is his restaurant in Brooklyn Park? Well, it just happens to be where he found a place with reasonable rent, and it’s near his home in Arden Hills. Nguyen opened the restaurant on a budget, and built most of it himself over the course of just under six months.
And although it is a bit out of the way, Crazy Cajun just celebrated its first anniversary, and is developing a following of repeat customers. Some of Nguyen’s most loyal diners are Vikings players who hail from the South and miss the food they grew up with. “I have about 15 players who come in regularly,” he says. Linval Joseph was the first to discover Crazy Cajun, and has introduced teammates, including Anthony Barr, to this Brooklyn Park gem.
Now that the restaurant is launched, Nguyen’s next project is a food truck that he hopes to have ready by next summer – the better to reach all those crawfish-craving customers in the Twin Cities.
8578 Edinburgh Centre Dr. N., Brooklyn Park
Closed on Tuesdays; Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, & Friday 4 p.m. – 9 p.m.; Saturday 2 p.m. – 9 p.m.; Sunday noon – 9 p.m.