In early March, Ralph & Kacoo’s finally launched its highly anticipated new menu, which offers a little something for everyone, from Tex-Mex to barbecue, traditional American to stuffed potatoes, and, of course, the Cajun seafood favorites for which the eatery is known.

A group of friends and I were on the scene to check it out post haste. But before I could write a review, the COVID-19, coronavirus hit, and our lives changed almost immediately. Two weeks after the menu’s launch, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered a temporary suspension of all restaurant dine-in service, bringing a screeching halt to the industry statewide.

And while Ralph & Kacoo’s was one of the many restaurants that adapted as best it could to stay afloat as well as keep us all fed — offering curbside takeaway, delivery options, family meals and daily specials — nobody was likely to order oysters on the half shell to go, nor would the health department allow it.

So I shelved the review until diners could take advantage of the culinary delights being shucked up in their oyster bar. And with restaurants now allowed to resume dine-in services, albeit at limited capacity and under other guidelines, now is definitely the time to pull up a bar stool, grab some Tabasco and crackers and check it out for yourself.

The oysters are the definite stars of this new menu, which features four different preparations in addition to raw, unadulterated oysters on the half shell.

The 8 Pack Sampler is the way to fly, allowing diners to sample two of each. It’s hard to choose a favorite, but I give the Charbroiled Oysters a slight edge. Topped with garlicky melted butter and crusted with Parmesan cheese, I found myself scraping the shell with my fork for more once the oyster was devoured.

A close second was the Oysters Diablo, topped with bacon, pepper jack cheese, spices and just the right amount of jalapeños to give it a little bit of a kick without being unpleasantly hot. I also loved the Oysters Rockefeller — which was the No. 1 pick of one of my friends — with its classic treatment of spinach, onions and a liberal drizzling of rich, lemony hollandaise sauce.

And who could resist the Oysters Kacoo? One friend — who deemed it her favorite — called it “a little taste of Thanksgiving dinner,” and that description is certainly apt. Charbroiled oysters are topped with garlic, butter, onions, crabmeat stuffing and lump crabmeat then drizzled with hollandaise sauce for an experience akin to an oyster dressing but with a hint of spicy kick.

Also new to the menu, the Loaded Tater Wedges are like potato skins on steroids, perfectly baked-’til-tender, jumbo slices of potatoes topped with butter, melted Monterey Jack, sour cream and chives. While the melt on that plentiful mound of pepper jack was gorgeous, the dish would benefit some in the flavor department with the addition of (or replacement by) cheddar and a little bit of seasoned salt, although it’s still a great dish with plenty for everyone to share.

For my main course, I went with the Cajun Cheeseburger, a half-pound of well-seasoned flame-broiled beef with pepper jack, spicy mayo and all the trimmings on one of those sweet sourdough buns that has become de rigueur for any good burger these days. They offer all the add-ons your heart could desire, so I loaded mine up with bacon, mushrooms and grilled onions for a burger that is one of the better ones you’ll find in town. They even let me swap my fries and coleslaw for Cheesy Grits and grilled asparagus, further elevating the experience.

One friend, who is a grits fanatic, had already called dibs on the Shrimp and Grits, boasting a smooth, creamy smoked gouda cheese grits base covered in their traditional shrimp étouffée and six jumbo grilled shrimp. The grits work as a great counterpart to the étouffée’s slight bit of spice, while the shrimp adds a flavor and texture that perfectly rounds out this Southern classic.

Another friend went with the Delta Dip, with brisket, pepper jack and a side of Au Jus. His sandwich would have benefited from a thinner slice on the brisket, which also had a good bit of fattiness on that particular visit, but a few kinks were to be expected with a menu so new.

On a subsequent visit while the dining room was closed, I ordered the BBQ Big Tater to go, and the quality and cook of the brisket had improved significantly, as tender, flavorful cubes of smoked brisket highlighted a large, buttery potato topped with melty cheddar, diced green onions, sweet barbecue sauce and sour cream — one of the better quality barbecue potatoes you’ll find in town.

Diners will find the new Skillet Sides a welcome addition to the menu, and we settled on an order of Crispy Brussels Sprouts to share. Deliciously caramelized and candied with chili lime, onion and bacon sauce, these sweet sprouts were one of the highlights of our meal.

In fact, there’s much to love on this new menu, which offers some of the Tex-Mex recipes we’ve grown to love from sister restaurant Cafe Del Rio (Shrimp Brochette, anyone?), as well as some items with reduced prices. The Cedar Plank Salmon, for instance, appears to $4 or $5 less than it was on the old menu.

I almost shed a tear, however, when I learned that the Cajun Stuffed Potato was a thing of the past. But not to worry: I was assured that their Loaded Mashed Potatoes were the same as the filling used on those, so I tried them as a side on a recent curbside to-go order of their Wednesday special, the Southwest Chop Steak, and was pleased to enjoy that old familiar taste. The tender grilled hamburger steak was delicious, as well, covered with grilled onions and mushrooms and a lovely melt of American cheese, although it could have used a little more gravy. Either way, I would definitely order it again, and it’s a steal at $8.99. Speaking of steals, they’re practically giving away their sirloin steak on Saturdays at $10.99 with a choice of one side.

For dessert during our dine-in visit, my friends and I split the decadent Flourless Chocolate Cake, also new to the menu, a dense, intensely fudgey treat topped with sweet chocolate glaze, served warm and definitely one you’ll want to order a la mode.

But I still love to “dance with the one that brought you,” opting for their famous Key Lime Pie with a recent to-go order just to confirm its standing as one of the best — definitely Top 3, in my book — desserts in town. And yep, it still is. There’s just something about that perfectly tart and tangy blend of key lime juice and sweetened condensed milk, simple graham cracker crust and homemade whipped cream that combines for a dessert in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. My mouth waters just writing about it.

To check out Ralph & Kacoo’s new menu or their Family Style Meals, visit ralphandkacoos.com. For more information, find their Facebook page. To place a to-go order or for curbside takeout, call 634-8000.

Brie Bradford is a pseudonym for the food critic of The Lufkin News. Her email is foodcritic@lufkindailynews.com.

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