Ragin' Cajun - Belmar, NJ
Driving on Route 35 in New Jersey in the Belmar area, you might almost miss the Ragin' Cajun if you weren't looking for it. An unassuming and small place, if it weren't for the signs your GPS will probably say "Recalculating" if you aren't paying attention. The Ragin' Cajun is a restaurant in Belmar that could easily be confused for a small house. If you've never been here before, just be prepared, even the inside has the facade of a house with an open kitchen. It's this kind of a setting that sets this establishment apart from most other places in Monmouth County. If you're here, you are here for the food.
Established in 1992 by Tracie Orsi, the Ragin' Cajun has become a permanent fixture in Belmar. Even though Orsi passed away in early 2015, the spirit of her menu lives on through the restaurant. The fact that it has kept it doors opened for almost 25 years is a true testament to how good the culinary offerings are. Ignore the lived-in aspects of the restaurant because that's the motif it has always been going for. It's small, quaint, and it feels like going back for a good home-cooked meal with the spice kicked up to 11.
One important thing to know before you visit the Ragin' Cajun is that it is BYOB. They have wine glasses and pint glasses, depending on your preference. For this visit, I brought Magnify Brewing's Woah CItra, an 8% Double IPA with huge juicy and citrusy notes. Reasoning: I knew the food would be spicy and sometimes some of the spiciest foods will bring out the huge citrus flavors out of an IPA like Woah Citra. This beer did not disappoint, nor did the pairing with the food we had on our visit. If a DIPA is too much, bring along an amber or a red ale. Not all of the plates are packed full of cajun heat though and the menu will do a good job on indicating which are and which aren't.
Our appetizer for the day was the NOLA BBQ Shrimp. It's 6 jumbo shrimp cooked in a delicious cajun BBQ sauce. We were thankful for the fact that before our appetizer, we were given some rolls, butter and half of a roasted head of garlic. Do yourself a favor and split the roll open and dip it into the cajun BBQ sauce once you are done feasting on the shrimp. It's a bit spicy, but worth it. Whatever is in that sauce, I'd buy that in a bottle and use it at home.
The Swamp Daddy Pasta is a cajun take on bow tie pasta and it's quite good. For protein, there is jumbo shrimp and alligator sauce. If you wanted some veggies in this dish, you're in luck, there are artichoke hearts and fresh mushrooms throughout the dish as well. The sauce is quite good, but not overpowering to the point that it really lets the alligator sausage shine in this dish. It's quite the serving as well. The dish is listed at $21.99 but the portions are double a regular portion size, so to say that you are taking some home to have on the following day is not an exaggeration.
The last entree ordered for the day was the Chicken Baton Rouge. Be careful with this one, it comes out steaming and ready to entice your senses with the amount of cajun seasoning and fresh vegetables on this dish. It's layered underneath with white rice and has tons of onion, bell peppers, and garlic. As is the case with the pasta, this entire serving proved to be way too big for one person. This meal clocks in at $18.99 but was good enough for at least two servings. Even better yet, once the rice and the chicken had a few hours to soak in the cajun seasonings, the leftovers were even better the next day.
If you haven't been to the Ragin' Cajun yet, you should. It doesn't matter if you've never had anything resembling cajun food before or if you think everything might be too "hot" flavor-wise. The wait staff will indicate to you what some of the preferred dishes are or what the heat profile to each dish is about. Some of the dishes can be made with a little less cajun heat as well. The fact that this restaurant is a BYOB is a huge advantage for any patron looking to save a few dollars on their alcohol bill. Don't let the prices deter you either. Even if each dish comes in about $20 on average, you are getting two portions.
Another key point is to get there early. During the summer there is outside seating but inside there is very limited space. We got there right when the restaurant opened and were able to find a table immediately. There is a small waiting area outside as well where you can sit down and have a drink in the meantime, but in all honesty, you are better off getting there earlier.
Even if you do wait, the food, the portions, the ambiance... is all worth it. Ragin' Cajun has been in Belmar for over 20 years and with good reason. Bring some beer, bring some wine, bring your appetite and let the good times roll.