The family that brought the Viet-Cajun food craze to Boston has opened a branch in Randolph.
Mike Le, a brother in the family that owns Brother’s Crawfish in Dorchester, runs Orleans Crawfish with his wife, Trang, and another couple. The cozy spot, located in a hidden corner in the Sudbury Farms Plaza, offers Cajun-style seafood served with a Vietnamese twist. It opened in December and retains the Hearth Stone name because the liquor license is held by the building’s owner.
Le said opening this winter was a challenge because of the weather, but business has been picking up, especially with repeat customers.
“We’re trying to bring the taste of Southeast Asian cuisine and mix in Cajun style,’’ Le said. “Locals find it intriguing.’’
He said the most popular dish has been its signature crawfish boil, which is offered three ways: original Cajun, garlic butter, or extra spicy.
One taste of the crawfish and you’ll understand its popularity. The steaming heap of red crustaceans beckons with a heady aroma. The firm tail meat, which can be dunked in the accompanying sauces, reminds one of miniature lobster tails. The head contains the most flavorful juices, and experienced diners slurp up every messy drop.
A pound of crawfish costs $10 for dinner, but the lunch special is $8 per pound, and $35 for a four-pound feast, which also comes with four sides (corn, sausage, potatoes, fries, or bread).
If you don’t want to deal with the mess of cracking crawfish with your fingers, opt for the crawfish fried rice ($6.25). The tender, red crawfish chunks add a bright taste and color to flavorful stir-fried rice. It’s a feast for both palate and eyes.
Don’t miss the chicken wings ($6.50 for eight) offered in a variety of glazes, the most popular being its Vietnamese sauce. The wings are first deep-fried, then sauteed with a citrusy/spicy/fish sauce coating that makes for tender, juicy chicken.
If you’re in a large party, go for the Orleans platter appetizer ($15). With six wings, egg roll (or spring roll), calamari, and bacon-wrapped scallops, the dish offers a variety of tastes and textures.
For more familiar Cajun-style dishes, there’s the oyster po’ boy sub ($6.25 lunch/ $8 dinner). The large oysters, battered and perfectly fried, were stuffed in a delectably crusty baguette and came with a heaping plate of Cajun fries. Instead of oysters, you can opt for shrimp, fish, or clams.
The fish combos will satisfy anyone with a hankering for fried seafood. For $12, catfish, tilapia, and shrimp are offered in any combination you prefer and come with any two sides. The kitchen managed to fry everything crisp and golden, without any greasiness.
Finish off your meal with red bean ice cream, flan, or a pair of beignets (desserts $3.25). The fried dough, soft and warm with a generous covering of powdered sugar, was a big hit with the kids.
My quibble with the menu is that it is heavy on the deep-fried, but light on fresh Southeast Asian offerings. Le said they’ve heard that complaint and are in the process of adding 10 dishes to the menu. Among them will be clear noodles stir-fried with crab meat, string beans sauteed with shrimp paste, beef-wrapped betel leaves, and banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich).
The addition of banh mi makes sense, since Le also owns the popular Mike’s Banh Mi on Harrison Avenue in Boston’s Chinatown. The family also runs the Ba Le sandwich shops, two of which are in Dorchester, and a third is in the Kam Man Marketplace in Quincy. Area residents who have enjoyed the fresh, clean favors of Vietnamese sandwiches will rejoice that the option will soon be available in Randolph.
Le said he doesn’t plan to offer pho, the famous Vietnamese noodle soup, because Randolph already has a great pho place, Pho So 1 Boston, nearby in the Shaw’s plaza. But he’s considering offering hot pot if the town’s fire code allows it.
The restaurant has a full bar and a function room with a stage that is used for karaoke and live music. Le believes town officials have been wary of the restaurant because of the building’s history as a troubled nightclub. While operating as the Vault Room and the Copa Grand Oasis, the place was the scene of stabbings and fights and required frequent visits by police. The nightclub was transformed to the Hearth Stone restaurant in July 2009.
Le, who lives in Braintree, said Randolph’s diversity makes it an ideal location for an Asian/Cajun family-friendly place, and hopes to buy the building once the restaurant is more established. His first step in that direction is to request approval to install a more prominent sign on Main Street.
“We have a firm belief that a good, honest business will do well,’’ said Le.