Sunday, March 16, 2008

Poor House Bistro, San Jose

Poor House Bistro
New Orleans cuisine, inexpensive and authentic

A friend took us to the Poor House Bistro several months ago, and we loved the Cajun food and the atmosphere. It's actually in a converted house: you walk up wooden stairs to the porch, and then the front door. All the seating is in the small rooms on the first floor, two rooms of maybe a couple hundred square feet each, with little patio tables crammed together, but nobody cares about the cramped space. They're too busy chowing down. The third room on the first floor is where the kitchen, cash register, and soda machine are. So you walk past the happy diners into the room where you order your food. They have a one-page menu and a daily special, and the kitchen is right behind the serving counter. This room is full of hungry people waiting patiently for their number to be called, watching the food come out to the counter. There are plenty of napkins for drooling into.

It's on August Street just down from the HP Pavilion, so the best time to go is around 7:30 on the night of a Sharks game or other event at the arena. When we got there at about seven, the place was full and just starting to empty out. There's a small pavilion in the side yard where live music plays, and that was also full. As we ordered and then waited for our food, the Sharks fans all left. By the time we were ready to wander over to the game, the place was nearly empty.

Like many Cajun places (at least CreoLa, the subject of a future post), Poor House Bistro offers a sampler of Cajun dishes: red beans and rice, jambalaya, and gumbo. They also offer po-boy sandwiches--I recommend the "cochon au lait," the pork po' boy, but they're probably all just as good. They use a Cajun mustard and mayo, and they import the bread from New Orleans because the owner couldn't find anywhere local that made the bread the right way. But all the food is good: the red beans and rice and gumbo especially. The jambalaya is tasty, but on this last occasion seemed a little mild and tomato-y, almost more like Spanish rice than Cajun. Still, it's hard to go wrong no matter what you order.

But don't fill up, because you need to save room for either the beignets or the bread pudding, or maybe both. The bread pudding is amazing, and the beignets are only slightly less so, drowned in powdered sugar and soft and fried. So unhealthy, so, so good.

They have a great lunch special, but lunch or dinner, this is one of the few Cajun places in the Bay Area that's worth not just one return visit, but many.

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