Good gal­ley, Miss Cal­lie

Pasatiempo - - Restaurant Review - Casey Sanchez

For a town sup­pos­edly full of bo­hemi­ans and epi­cures, Santa Fe’s food trucks can be counted on one hand. Among them is Cal­lie’s Gal­ley, which would still stick out like a flame-red craw­fish even in a food-truck haven like Port­land, Ore­gon, or Los An­ge­les. A late-model Econo­line dually van with a 1970s-style paint job de­pict­ing ocean waves crash­ing against faux wood pan­el­ing, Cal­lie’s food van looks stranded some­where be­tween Burn­ing Man and a lost episode of Scooby Doo. But in Louisiana, some of the best Ca­jun food is of­ten found in gas sta­tions and bayou stilt houses, so why not a “land yacht” off Old Las Ve­gas High­way?

With a small menu of just fewer than a dozen items, pro­pri­etor Cal­lie Ford dis­plays a stun­ning abil­ity to make af­ford­ably priced com­fort food out of fresh­wa­ter shell­fish — no small feat in our land­locked city. The craw­fish étouf­fée mixes chives, cream, and but­ter with the “holy trin­ity” of onions, green pep­pers, and cel­ery for a whole that is far greater than the sum of its parts. The crab-and-craw­fish bisque works alchemy on a sim­i­lar list of in­gre­di­ents. It is the food truck’s most-or­dered dish.

As Ford states in her menu, she was once mar­ried to a sous chef at Ar­naud’s, the much­feted French Quar­ter Cre­ole res­tau­rant. But as she pri­vately con­fides, what she got from her ex con­sists mostly of cook­books. Her own ap­proach to Ca­jun cui­sine was fine-tuned as she drove the gal­ley cross-coun­try, test­ing her recipes at pit stops along the way. One re­ward of all that ef­fort is a gumbo, suc­cu­lent and spicy, thick­ened by filé pow­der (ground sas­safras) and cut okra. Its un­usual warm­ing tang works as well for a hot-sum­mer lunch as it does for a crisp-au­tumn din­ner. There is also a jam­bal­aya — built from a core of sausage, chicken, and ham — though mine was served with rice that was a bit dry.

The real stand­out was the oys­ter po’ boy. The sandwich was over­flow­ing with fresh oys­ters coated in corn­meal, fried in peanut oil, and heaped on a half baguette, split and spread with mayo and pa­prika. It ranks up there with any sandwich I’ve had in New Or­leans.

Sur­pris­ingly, the one lack­lus­ter item was the red beans and rice. It’s a sta­ple of South­ern cook­ing even out­side Louisiana, but these beans were un­der­sea­soned and slightly wa­tery. This is a dish that needs a no­to­ri­ously long cook­ing and rest­ing time; the left­overs tasted much bet­ter two days later, as the fla­vors had time to meld. Since food can be or­dered by the pint or the quart in ad­di­tion to the plate, build­ing a freezer li­brary of Cal­lie’s is easy to do. Cal­lie is also fond of dol­ing out sam­ples. Of­ten, you don’t even have to ask — just linger too long read­ing the menu.

Au­then­tic­ity is the sword by which any Ca­jun cook who hangs her shin­gle out­side Aca­di­ana lives or dies. On one visit, I was ac­com­pa­nied by a Ca­jun raised in Louisiana’s south­ern bay­ous. He was skep­ti­cal that any­thing au­then­tic could come out of a food truck that looks like a shop­worn stunt van from a Cheech and Chong movie. His ver­dict? While it’s not food that would stand out in Ter­re­bonne Parish, it wouldn’t stick out for be­ing in­au­then­tic, ei­ther. Con­sid­er­ing that Cal­lie’s is avail­able five days a week at 7,000 feet above sea level on some of Santa Fe’s lesser trav­eled roads, this com­fort food from the Deep South is noth­ing short of deeply sat­is­fy­ing.

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