Sacramento, CA 95824
Located in a small parking lot next to an Asian health needs store on Stockton Boulevard, Cajun Madness, a family-owned seafood restaurant, is deceptively spacious—and a great place for hands-on meals.
On a chilly Thursday evening, its glowing red and green neon sign lit up the night's sky as we stepped inside seeking warmth. The massive dining room had ample booths and tables for families large and small. Every wall was adorned with original murals including the Tower Bridge, fisherman patiently waiting on a distant bayou, silhouettes of swingin' jazz musicians and a beefy crawdad wrestling an ornery gator.
Ideal for colder weather, the Combo # 1 ($36.95, serves two) is one of three Cajun seafood boils offered daily so diners can sample a bit of everything, including an entire pound of fresh crawfish. We doused our combo in the house spicy sauce, medium, which packed a savory seafood broth flavor. After it steams in a plastic bag with half-pounds of mussels, clams and shrimp, plus corn on the cob, smoky sausage and whole red potatoes, turn the bag upside down to pour its contents into a large pile in sizable bowl.
Wearing bibs and gloves, it's a hands-on feast. The shrimp were supple, slightly sweet and had a nice give with eat bite. Mussels easily slipped off their shells, leaving a vessel to scoop up the delicious, garlicky sauce. The clams, which had mostly fallen out of their shells, were a treat once you found the little, chewy morsels hidden in the spicy broth. The crawfish are a labor of love. Knowing how to extract the tiny portions of meat is key, and I've learned a thing or two from my partner: Grab the tail, pull and scrape out the tender meat and, if you fancy, slurp the remaining portion out of the head. It's an experience to be sure.
The star of the evening was the Lobster Roll ($14.99): A buttery, soft hoagie gently toasted and stuffed with generous portions of lobster chunks tossed in a very light mayo; the teeniest of celery bits gave it a light crunch, garnished with chives and dusted with a little paprika. Simple. A dash of fresh-squeezed lemon and each bite was pillowy and indulgent. By the time I looked up, it was gone. I will dream about this sandwich. Sometimes, it's the simplest menu item that's the most enjoyable.
Other hits were the Shrimp Basket ($10.99): golden, crispy-fried shrimp with a slight hint of coconut and a delectable batter that packed so many little cracklings each bite echoed with crunchiness. The market price oysters ($10.99 for six) were shucked to order and served with a dab of Sriracha, green onions, lemon and a side of Tabasco. They tasted of the sea and were a nice appetizer.
One dish Cajun Madness could improve upon is its Seafood Gumbo ($8.99). All the components were there: crab, shrimp, scallops, sausages and okra swimming in a brown gravy-like sauce and served with a small mound of white rice. It reminded me more of jambalaya than anything. It was peppery and tasted just fine. But ever since trying the popular gumbo over at Tori's Place on Grand Avenue, other versions don't measure up.
A quick drive down Stockton Boulevard reveals Sac has its fair share of Cajun seafood houses. Still, Cajun Madness offers a variety of customizable options (and that Lobster Roll) that makes it a destination worth stopping by.