Louie's Cajun Kitchen and Bourbon Bar serves Southern Favorites with a twist
When I enjoyed the new brunch at Cloud's Downtown last April, I had no idea that the Southern-themed menu was a foreshadowing of the makeover that was revealed this month.
Owners Lou and Christi Caviglia have transformed their popular Church Street meeting place into a Cajun restaurant and bourbon bar.
I was eager to reconnect with flavors I had fallen for in the American South, such as a Hurricane that wasn't virgin (I was an expectant mother in New Orleans), catfish and hushpuppies like those at a feast in Charleston, S.C., and perhaps a mint julep like my friend from Kentucky so meticulously makes.
I was surprised at the extent and vibrancy of the restaurant's makeover. A mural painted on the main wall in bright colors of lemon, lime and cayenne depicts a lively Bourbon Street scene. Smaller pieces, in an impressionistic view of realism, showcase jazz musicians surrounded by broad swirling swaths of brush strokes. Greek masks of comedy and tragedy are headlined by the words "Laissez les bon temps rouler" painted in flowery script.
You'll still find your favorite specialty martini, but Louie's stocks more than 35 American bourbons and whiskeys, and offers a new selection of specialty cocktails ($8 to $9). I'll forgive Louie for the not quite traditional, but delicious, mint julep. Including a bit of Grand Marnier and fresh orange with the muddled mint, bourbon and sugar added a pleasant freshness to the strong libation.
The famed Bourbon Street beverage that shares its name with a southern storm is named for the glass it is served in, which is shaped like lampshades that protect the flame from the wind. Louie's N'Awlins Hurricane is a pretty
peach-colored blend of five rums and three juices. The Zombie, similar in flavor is topped with a float of Cherry Midnight Moonshine. Cocktail napkins would be much appreciated with these tall glasses, as the condensation that forms is enough to dampen a diner's lap.
Live jazz piano provided a backdrop to vibrant conversation in the almost sold-out restaurant. The appetizer of Hushpuppies ($5.95) with crawfish ($2) were taken to the next evolutionary level, sharing little in common with fried dough, as legend has it, that was thrown to quiet the dogs. These five fried cornbread balls, whose dough was mixed with bits of pink crayfish, were stuffed with pepper Jack cheese and served with a tart, horseradish-laced rémoulade.
Gumbo is traditionally thickened with flour cooked in butter until nicely browned, and seasoned with filé, the powdered leaves of the sassafras tree. Two such stews were available as side dishes. Both with rice and red bell peppers, the seafood version held numerous tail-on shrimp, and bits of crayfish. Along with the dark chicken rendition were green onion and slices of marvelously spicy Cajun andouille sausage.
Catfish ($15.95) can be prepared blackened, grilled, or encrusted in cornmeal. I chose the latter, whose crunchy coating gave way to reveal moist, tender white fish. It was drizzled with a mild and creamy jalapeño sauce. As a second side ($2.50), four cubes of cornbread were amazingly airy and moist.
The 16-ounce Ribeye Steak ($22.95) bore perpendicular grill marks, and arrived medium-rare as requested. The huge, tender cut of meat was topped with a light bourbon sauce, ground pepper, and whole black peppercorns.
The list of house-made desserts ($5.95) is enticing indeed. Southern favorites such as pecan pie and peach cobbler join Bananas Foster made with Sailor Jerry's spiced rum, and chocolate cake with maple-cream cheese frosting (bacon sprinkles are optional). I chose the Beignets, a specialty of Café du Monde, a New Orleans establishment since 1862.
Beginning as flat little squares of dough, they are fried until they puff like pillows. Heavily covered with sifted powdered sugar, I filled the hollow center with both berry and chocolate sauces.
Brunch is still served at Louie's on Sundays. A bottomless Mimosa ($9) was the perfect accompaniment to a noontime Giants game, which could be seen on the two televisions above the bar. A jazz quartet included a keyboard, whispering drums, a standup base, and a saxophonist, whose fingers fluttered deftly up and down the instrument's brass surface.
The Basic Breakfast ($8) included two eggs, a biscuit, choice of hash browns or potatoes and bacon, ham, or house-made sausage. The sausage was the star. Two thin patties were seasoned with just enough red chili pepper bits for a mild burn.
I'm typically fearful of fried chicken with its flavorful coatings latched onto saturated fat-laden skin. Louie's fried Chicken and Biscuits ($12) were quite different and definitely delicious. Three shiny egg-shaped biscuits were wonderfully soft and doughy. A crunchy panko crust covered strips of skinless, moist chicken breast. I ordered the creamy gravy on the side, which was peppered and loaded with more of the spicy sausage.
Louie's Cajun Kitchen and Bourbon Bar, 110 Church St., Santa Cruz, 429-2000. Full Bar. Serving dinner Tuesday through Sunday 2 p.m. until 10 p.m., and Sunday brunch from 10:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. Closed Mondays. Visit louiescajunkitchen.com
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