Good galley, Miss Callie
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.