Creole comforts 

Recently, I was going west on Orchard Lake Road between Woodward and Telegraph, when I passed a sign on a small white building reading Catfish Corner. Of course I made a U-turn and went back. What I found was a tidy little neighborhood fish market run by Stan Oliver, the friendly proprietor of what seems to be more of a carryout than a sit-down restaurant.

The place sells mostly fried fish and shrimp and oysters, backed up with soul food sides such as greens, macaroni and cheese, with yams and peach cobbler for dessert. For the diet-conscious, there’s baked salmon — a generous fillet, fresh and well seasoned — that comes with two sides. The fried shrimp is priced by the pound and the fried Whiting I tried was delicious.

I noticed that the Whiting had been seasoned before it was breaded, which adds to the depth of the flavor. The fried seafood is cooked to order by a well-organized crew that cranks it out quickly. The customers and staff are friendly and the wait is fun. There’s some banter going on all the time.

I loved the shrimp and the Whiting, both fried to a turn. The greens seemed to be cooked by someone who avoids some of the fatty smoked pork that gives them that Southern flavor. Nevertheless, they were tasty with the addition of a little salt and hot sauce or vinegar. The yams were too sweet for my taste, but that’s how many people like them. The mac and cheese was near perfect — creamy and cheesy. The cobbler was one of the best I’ve had.

While my order was being prepared, I suggested to Stan that they get some good French bread and serve Po’ Boys with all that fried seafood.

He said that in deference to the soon-to-debut barbecue, they aren’t making sandwiches, but suggested that I try Andre’s Louisiana Seafood Sandwiches at 752 W. Huron, about four blocks east of Telegraph. Andre Williams and his wife, Dorothy, are natives of Louisiana, friendly folks, proud of their heritage and determined to introduce our area to Creole food. Believe me, they can cook! On my first visit, I was on my way to meet someone for lunch elsewhere, but I took a small Jambalaya to go. I took one taste in the parking lot and finished it on the spot. It was one of the best I’ve ever eaten, in or out of Louisiana.

Now to the main event: the Po’ Boys.

Hero. Sub. Hoagie. Grinder. These words are foreign to the vocabulary of the native New Orleanian. That’s because in New Orleans, they eat po’ boys, a staple at lunch counters across the metro area. The name “po’ boy” is, of course, a shortened version of “poor boy.” The name stems from the fact that a po’ boy used to be a very inexpensive way to get a very solid meal.

The shrimp po’ boy at Andre’s consists of at least a dozen good-sized fried shrimp that have been seasoned up better than any I’ve ever had. They are served on the requisite French bread that is sent up from New Orleans. They are “dressed.” To the uninitiated, that means slathered in mayonnaise and Creole mustard, with a layer of shredded lettuce, tomatoes and pickles. A small costs $7.95. A large, more than a foot long, costs $13.95. They are also available with fried catfish, oysters, roast beef or sausage. Three of us split a large cut into four pieces and no one could eat the fourth quarter. We did have some gumbo and jambalaya with it, though.

The seafood gumbo is outstanding, filled with crab and shrimp and chicken and sausage. It has chicken necks and giblets, stuff that I don’t eat. It’s worth removing whatever you don’t like and enjoying the rest. The flavor is excellent.

Andre’s also serves a seafood pasta (that I have not yet tried), fish dinners, and, on weekends in the summer, boiled crawfish with potatoes and corn. I hear that his Red Beans and Rice are fine too. His sweet potato pie is unlike any I’ve eaten — creamy and not too sweet. The bread pudding is awesome — moist and sweet, redolent of the brown sugar in the sauce. (When I went to cooking school in New Orleans, the chef, Joe Cahn, now the Tailgate Commissioner, said that, when serving it to Northerners, we should call it Creole Delight, because “bread pudding” does not sound appetizing to people who aren’t familiar with it.) Try it! The peach cobbler is on my list for my next visit as well.

Andre’s is strictly carryout. It requires patience even if you call ahead. I assure you that it is worth the wait. On a few visits, I have found that no one seems impatient. I guess the people I’ve encountered have been there before. Andre’s attracts a friendly clientele, making the wait pleasant. The waiting area is decorated with Louisiana artifacts; Mardi Gras beads, Jazzfest posters, bags of Camellia beans and colorful trinkets.

The kitchen, behind a glass wall, appears to be spotless. This is the real deal, Creole food as it’s served at “home.”

Speaking of Creole food, I met Lionel Key a couple of years ago at Jazzfest in New Orleans. He runs Uncle Bill’s Spice Company, a purveyor of the finest filé powder available anywhere. He grows his own sassafras and grinds it by hand. You can find him at www.unclebillspices.com. His Web site also includes some recipes.

 

Catfish Corner is located at 480 Orchard Lake Road; call 248-332-6744.

Andre’s Louisiana Seafood Sandwiches is located at 752 W. Huron; call 248-858-8208.

Jeff Broder scouts food finds for Metro Times. Send comments and tips to letters@metrotimes.com

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