The first time I’d ever had Cajun-fried turkey- at Bill Davis’s wedding in New Orleans circa ’90- I moaned. Oh my god, it was the best thing I’d ever put in my mouth. It wasn’t a fad back then like it is now, where you can buy a kit with a fryer and spices and injector at Academy and do your own. You had to know somebody.
When I moved to Dallas in 1992 I lived stumbling distance from the Balcony Club, an upstairs lounge at the Lakewood Theater, which you had full access to after the last showing of the night. That’s where everyone smoked joints and some lucky guys got their joints smoked. Imagine being wasted and having a whole movie theater to yourself.
The piano man was G.T. Reed, an old blues guy from Waco happy to have a fulltime gig. He played a lot of Ray Charles and Charles Brown, but he could also play boogie woogie and Cole Porter and contemporary requests. He was great! And G.T. was an afficianado of the funky food joints. He told me about Leslie’s Fried Chicken (RIP) in Waco- and it’s still the best I’ve had.
I told him about my orgasmic experience with Cajun fried turkey and he told me about Cade’s Bowl o’ Beans on Good-Latimer. “Bring your own turkey and Cade will fry it up for you for $15.” I took the drive the next day, so long that it was no longer Good, just Latimer.
A Creole from Beaumont and his wife/partner Shirley were an older interracial couple, I’d guess in their 50s. Oh, yeah, they’d gone through some shit, and didn’t take none. The only way to hear about Cade’s was word-of-mouth. There were no foodies yelping in 1992, so the line was only 10-15 minutes, not two hours. You’d have redneck truckers next to black activists (John Wiley Price) and Judge John Cruezot (currently Dallas DA) and nobody cared. You just stared at the menu and daydreamed. The two most un-racist places in America are OTB and a joint with good, authentic food.
If I remember correctly, Cade’s had the standard Cajun/Creole fare: gumbo, red beans and rice, etouffee, but they served a few dishes I’d never heard of. I went there once with the journalist Robert Wilonsky and he ordered one of the more adventurous items. “You know what that is?” Cade asked Robert, probably the first white guy to order it. Oh, yeah, he said. Cade just shook his head and said Ohh-kay. Perhaps imagining a plate of scrambled pig brains topped with bull semen, Robert said, “you know what, I’ll have the jambalaya instead.” That kid was always fast on his feet.
Cade told me they fried turkey only one day a week, so I brought my 14-lb bird one Saturday morning and picked it up later that day. The smell in the car drove me crazy, so I had to pull over and get a couple bites. Yep, just as I remembered!
I took the turkey to my editor Lisa’s house because we invited a few folks to try this delicacy and watch the Cowboys- and my apartment was too small. Among the guests were the Canadian band the Tragically Hip, who’d played Deep Ellum Live the night before. I interviewed them in the French Quarter about a year earlier, when they were recording Road Apples at Dan Langois’ studio. When we were eating late night at Coop’s Place I asked them if they’d ever had Cajun fried turkey. No, they said. The waitress said there was no place in the Quarter that she knew of that served CFT. As much of their backstage beer as I’d drunken through the years I wanted to do something for them.
So, when I discovered Cade’s I told the Hip next time in Dallas, prepare to give your taste buds an O.
The timing was pretty perfect on the day of Jan. 17, 1993. The Dallas Cowboys traveled to San Francisco to play the 49ers, with the winner going to the Super Bowl. As we picked that bird clean, Troy threw for over 300 yards, Emmitt rushed for over 100, the defense grabbed four turnovers and Dallas won 30-20. I had been told, that week, if the Cowboys won I’d be on the Dallas Morning News team to cover the Super Bowl. In total, the DMN sent 43 writers, editors and photographers- which would be the entire staff these days!
After the game, one of Lisa’s friends dropped by. She looked like Bridget Fonda and I was smitten. Lisa introduced her as an art historian, so I picked up a book of Robert Franks photography and opened to a photo that had puzzled me. If I recall, it was a boxcar that was part of a carnival train. “What makes this a great photo?”
Victoria pointed out all these things I hadn’t noticed- baby shoes, etc.- and how they told the story of the family inside. She had only stopped by for about an hour and after she left, I announced to the Hip that they’d just met the woman I’m going to marry! Someone that beautiful who could teach me things. I wrote her a gushy letter from Pasadena and when I got back we started dating. In two weeks we were married.
Pt. II: “Cajun fried turkey, you fuckin’ ruined my life!”