New Orleans holds a special place in my heart. As a native Texan, I spent decades living about 4.5 hours from the city by car, and I took advantage of that fact … often.
One of the most alluring things about that city (aside from the copious amounts of booze) is the glorious food. Stand in the French Quarter or the Garden District and throw a stone – or beignet – and you’ll hit a restaurant worth visiting. It’s that easy.
It ain’t that easy here, though. Not when it comes to Cajun food, anyway. Sure, there’s a small Cajun store in the Main Mall in Durango, but there isn’t an oyster bar where you can drown your sorrows or toast the good life with milk punch, à la Bourbon House, nor is there a place where you can choke on copious amounts of powdered sugar like you can – and will – at Cafe Du Monde.
That lack of Cajun food (that you don’t have to prepare in your own kitchen) is precisely why I was so stoked to find out there was a Cajun restaurant in Pagosa Springs, a town we cover on the regular. That restaurant, The Lost Cajun, is situated right on the main drag next to the town’s boutiques and hot springs, but for some reason, we’d hadn’t seen it on our many, many trips to Pagosa.
I sure am glad we found it this time, though. One of the (few) things I miss about living in a major metro area is the food – especially when it comes to slightly more obscure options like, well, Cajun food. It was apparent from the moment we sat down in The Lost Cajun, though, that I could cross that off my list, because this place was legit.
The first thing our server asked us after we sat down at a table with long wooden benches was whether we’d dined with them before. Nope, we hadn’t, we said … an answer I assumed would lead us to a quick overview of the menu options. At The Lost Cajun, though, they take that overview to another level. You know how you get a wooden paddle with tasters when you order a flight of beer? Well, at this place, if you’re new to their restaurant, you get a flight of gumbo. Yes, a flight of gumbo. Well, a flight with gumbo, red beans and rice, and lobster bisque, to be exact. Our server returned quickly with our drinks – a house-made lemonade for me and an Abita, a true Louisiana beer, for my dining partner – and those samples, and boy, were they delicious. Well, the ones I could eat, anyway. I’m allergic to shellfish, which meant my tasting was limited. But the other ones looked delicious.
Any proper Cajun restaurant knows how to do two things: they know how to make chicken and sausage gumbo, a staple in Louisiana, and they know how to throw down some red beans and rice. Those were the two I dug into immediately, and both were exactly what I was hoping for. The chicken and sausage gumbo was the perfect mix of shredded chicken, sausage, and spices, and had just enough kick to remind me of why I love that deep brown roux so much.
The red beans and rice was cooked to perfection too, and the red beans were just the right texture. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it’s pretty easy to overcook those red beans, making that entire dish a mound of mush. (I’m speaking from experience here.) The ones at The Lost Cajun, though, were the Louisiana version of al dente – just firm enough to keep their shape, but without a hint of unwanted crunch.
I had a hard time choosing between the two, but ultimately gave in to the chicken and sausage gumbo and an order of hush puppies, my kryptonite. My dining partner eschewed the gumbos, étouffées, and bisques and went with an off-the-wall choice instead: the alfredo pasta, which is topped with a creamy Cajun alfredo sauce with fried chicken. I was surprised by her choice, but impressed when the dishes arrived.
Both plates were piled high with our respective choices, and my bowl of gumbo had the perfect rice-to-gumbo ratio, making it easy to tackle but still quite filling. Both dishes also came with a side of french bread, a necessity for sopping up the last bits of gumbo and alfredo.
We hardly spoke as we dug into our dishes, and it wasn’t long before both plates had been wiped clean. We only conquered about half of those hush puppies, but fear not: they didn’t go to waste. We threw them in a to-go container and shoveled them into our mouths on the way back to Durango. They were fantastic, even at room temperature.
I know Pagosa Springs is no replacement for the grit and glory of New Orleans, but it’s a close second, and it’s a heck of a lot closer. In this case, there ain’t nothin’ wrong with runner up, especially when it comes to chicken and sausage gumbo. I have a feeling we’ll be stopping by this place as often as possible on our trips to Pagosa. It’s just too good to pass up.