It’s strange to get such fine food in a food court. But that’s where the excellent Beck’s Cajun Cafe lies—right between a KFC and a nameless take–out Chinese stand. Of course, most people won’t have the luxury of sitting down and savoring Beck’s Louisiana–style offerings. They’ll be catching a train, grabbing gumbo on the go. That’s right: Beck’s is in the middle of 30th Street Station. While the venue might not scream “some of the best Cajun cooking in Philadelphia,” the food does. And it’s the food that matters to chef and owner Bill Beck, who owned a Latin restaurant before starting the first Beck’s Cajun in Reading Terminal Market. A chef by trade, he was always attracted to Cajun cooking, an amalgamation of Latin, French and Southern cuisine. In talking to Beck, it was clear that he was passionate about bringing this style of cooking to Philadelphia and about the food he was serving. So let’s get to the food. Namely, Beck serves alligator, and it is delicious. Honestly, my comrades and I were a little (read: completely) terrified when the Gator Gumbo ($6.95) came out. One bite and we were converts.
Alligator meat is surprisingly lean and flavorful, like chicken but more savory. Add that exotic meat (which, by the way, is authentic—they ship it from Louisiana) to a spicy and richly flavored gumbo stock and you have yourself a meal that’s truly crave–worthy. For favorites, the mini–cornbread loaves ($1) were a close second. Golden and crispy on the outside, warm and airy on the inside, they were the kind of pastry you read about in Martha Stewart magazines, but can never seem to recreate on your own. Also of note were the beignets ($3.95), a classic Louisiana–style doughnut smothered with fine confectioner’s powder (which got all over my pants but was otherwise totally worth it), and the Train Wreck Po Boy ($9.95), a hulking mass of steak and pork covered in cheese and sandwiched between crispy French bread—an alternate cheesesteak to rival Pat’s and Geno’s. The only disappointment was the Jambalaya Bowl ($6.95), the quintessential Cajun dish. It just didn’t have the spiciness or ingenuity of the other dishes; even the added kick of Beck’s own 3 Devils Hot Sauce ($6.99, part of their new retail line) couldn’t elevate it to the others’ level. I know it’s no fun to read a gushingly positive review. But with incredible authentic Cajun cuisine—seriously, alligator—and the friendliest service around, it’s hard to find anything bad to say about Beck’s Cajun Cafe. Next time you need to go to 30th Street Station, give yourself a 30–minute head start and check out Beck’s. It will be worth the trip.