April 20, 2018 | Fort Worth Star-Telegram (TX)

When the beignets arrived, square and puffy and under a blanket of powdered sugar, the woman seated next to me proclaimed, “I didn’t know they serve sopaipillas here.”

For those who see Cajun food through the lens of a North Texan, a trip to The Lost Cajun might prove to be educational. At the very least, it’ll be enjoyable.

No doubt one of the most popular new restaurants in Mansfield’s booming restaurant scene, this local branch of a Colorado-based chain is drawing big crowds to a strip mall space for what the founders call “authentic Cajun food.”

Of course, every chef or restauranteur has his or her own own vision of authenticity, and The Lost Cajun founder Raymond Griffin is no different. His version of Cajun means complex rouxs that take hours and patience to make; square beignets, not doughnut-shaped; and catfish that comes breaded in corn flour, not the usual cornmeal.

Griffin says his recipes and cooking methods are steeped in his hometown of Barataria, Louisiana, where, growing up, he learned how to fish, then learned how to cook it, taking cues from the moms of his friends. Eventually he opened a fishing lodge. Following Hurricane Katrina, he moved to Colorado, where he opened the first location of The Lost Cajun, naming the spot after himself. Fishing buddy Jon Espey helped him expand and now there are 15 stores nationwide, with more to come, including a Keller location.

Opened in February, the Mansfield store tries to replicate the party atmosphere of New Orleans. Servers don Mardi Gras beads and deliver frozen daiquiris and hurricanes against a backdrop of zydeco music and chipper, colorful decor. There’s a heavy shtick factor that might make a New Orleans native groan — or feel right at home.

The menu is made up primarily of Cajun-Creole standards: jambalaya, fried gator, po-boy sandwiches and various gumbos, along with pastas, sides and salads.

An appetizer of a dozen boudin balls ($6) started our meal on a hit and miss note. The bite-size globes of pork and rice were disappointingly bland, but we clung tightly to the accompanying housemade dipping sauce, a mix of mayo, hot sauce and Worcestershire that was dazzlingly addicting.

Punctuated by soft tufts of lobster tail and crabmeat, lobster bisque ($9 for cup, $12 for bowl) was one of the best things we had — smooth, buttery and luxuriously rich. Don’t take the “cup” description literally. It was more of a small bowl, more than enough to share.

The Cat-touffee entree ($13) allowed us to try two of the restaurant’s signature items: fried catfish and crawfish étouffée. It wasn’t the prettiest of plates — three planks of catfish, sitting atop a bed of white rice, had been drenched in a sea of swampy brown étouffée — but its flavors quickly won us over.

Breaded in corn flour, the catfish was terrific, brandishing a perfectly salted and crisp skin — tough enough to not turn to mush under the weight of the étouffée. Thinly cut and snugly fit inside the batter, the fish itself benefited from soaking in a secret-spice marinade for 12 hours, giving it a slight punch. As good as it was, the soupy, earthy étouffée could have used more crawfish.

On a menu dominated by heavy rouxs and fried foods, a few light options can be found. Among them is the Voodoo Pasta ($16), made with fettuccine, plump sauteed shrimp and thick slices of andouille sausage. Diced red, yellow and orange bell peppers were sprinkled throughout, giving it some color and crunch. A light rain of a white wine cream sauce helped bring together the dish’s varying components.

We finished off our meal with the seemingly mandatory beignets ($5), served three to an order. The pastries were in tune with the beignets you’d find in New Orleans: light and fluffy squares covered in snowstorms of powdered sugar; you’ll have a blast making a big mess.

Every table receives complimentary samples of all the gumbos and soups, placed before you on wooden paddles seconds after you sit down. Another nice touch: If you finish every drop of a gumbo or soup, your server will ask if you want “lagniappe,” which translates to a little bit more. In this case, it means a little bit more for free.

We learn something new every day.

The Lost Cajun, 1530 E. Debbie Lane, Mansfield

Originally published April 20, 2018. The restaurant has since closed.