Oh me oh my
By June Naylor
Photos by Ralph Lauer
From gumbo to boudin, The Cajun Market transports taste buds to the Bayou State
Thanks to Phil Tullis, we don’t have to drive to south Louisiana to savor a bowl of homemade gumbo. And unless we just want to road-trip down that way to enjoy a proper oyster po’boy or pick up fresh boudin and crawfish, he’s got us covered there, too.
Phil is a native of Houma, a town deep in Acadiana, where you might need an interpreter to help you navigate the rich but humble food as well as the lyrical dialect. Along with wife Debbie Tullis, Phil renovated and reconfigured a building formerly home to a small market and opened The Cajun Market in Colleyville last summer, originally under the name T-Johnny’s. Why Colleyville? Phil was betting — and he was correct — that a central location would draw food lovers from Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding areas.
Despite heavy construction in the area, the market/restaurant, which has since expanded its carryout menu, was an instant hit with aficionados of Cajun flavors as authentic as Phil’s accent. “I tell people, ‘You’re eating a 100-year-old gumbo right there,’ and they wonder if I’m talking about something aged. Truthfully, our recipe has more than a century’s worth of experience, because it’s the one from my Houma grandmother, my mama, sisters and aunts,” says Phil, who retired from a long career in financial planning.
Every morning, that gumbo — seafood, chicken-sausage — is made fresh with a dark rich roux as its crucial base. Sold hot to takeaway customers, the gumbo also is stocked by the quart in freezer cases, selling out quickly during cold snaps. Like the red beans and rice, etouffee and jambalaya scratch-made daily in the market’s kitchen, the gumbo has become a beacon for homesick Louisianans. While waiting for your order, hot cracklings are available and are conveniently located next to the cash register.
“Growing up with the taste buds, knowing just how it should taste, is key, and I have just the right guy helping me,” he says, praising kitchen manager Heli Martinez. “Heli’s got 25 years of cooking experience and loves a good challenge. With practice, he’s getting our recipes down.”
Phil sends his own truck down to different spots in Louisiana for a wealth of supplies including andouille and smoked sausage; shrimp, oysters, crab and frog legs; and Langlinais Bakery in Lafayette for po’boys. You’ll find redfish and snapper, and check the kitchen menu for lighter options such as shrimp remoulade and grilled shrimp salad.
Phil’s now making fresh boudin and pork sausage. In the freezer case, you’ll also find various meats — chicken, pork, beef — some stuffed with boudin or sausage. This spring, he’ll start smoking his own andouille.
Early in February, he’ll bring in crawfish from his old stomping grounds, too, to boil fresh for customers. Phil has carved out a space in the back of the store and outfitted it with oversize custom metal boxes made for cooking the mudbugs to his liking. Throughout Lent, The Cajun Market will offer traditional king cakes from the Houma bakery called Cannata’s, but because demand is heavy, customers have to place advance orders. When patrons clamored for beignets, help came from The Dusty Biscuit’s Trey Smith, who’s transitioning from a food trailer to a Fort Worth brick-and-mortar business. Phil buys Dusty Biscuit dough and serves up fresh deep-fried beignets at The Cajun Market daily; cafe au lait and other hot coffee drinks are available only on weekends.
Customers wanting to make beignets at home find the Café du Monde brand from New Orleans on the market’s shelves, along with assorted coffees from New Orleans and its surrounds. Dry goods also include a variety of seasonings and fish-fry blends, including one that is gluten-free. A Lafayette product called Skinny Roux promises a gluten-free starting point for keto- and paleo-compliant gumbo.
Since opening in June just off Texas Highway 26, Phil and Debbie — a Fort Worth native who recently retired as a corporate accountant for Neiman Marcus — have been delighted at the welcome the shop has received, even before the messy road construction was finished. The couple also was grateful for the support they received after COVID-19 forced them to close the shop for a couple of weeks after Christmas. Phil loves convincing customers that The Cajun Market is the real deal. He recounts customers’ responses in his distinctive cadence, “People from Louisiana come in here and try the gumbo or etouffee, and roll their eyes, saying, ‘Oh, my God, this tastes just like my grandmama’s.’”