A Creole Crawl: Austin's Best Cajun/Creole Fare
#ATXBestEats City Guide 2015

Hi there!  Looking for Creole/Cajun fare in the heart of Texas? Well you're in luck! This guide has been updated! Please visit A Creole Crawl |Austin's Best Cajun/Creole Fare, 2016 #ATXBestEats City Guide, which will go live March 4th, for all the skinny on the current state of Creole affairs in Austin, and surrounding area. 


Laissez les bon temps rouler, y'all!

For the fourth year in a row, I am delighted to share the latest haunts, dives, corners and cafes where you'll find a little bit of Louisiana, within, and beyond, the city limits of our fair Austin. Whether you're in the City for SXSW, ACL Music Festival, Austin Food and Wine Festival, Circuit of America's Formula One races, or firmly ensconced as a resident, you'll find your Creole hunger, hankering, and craving consummated by the A Creole Crawl: Austin's Best Cajun/Creole Fare, a contribution to the Austin Food Blogger Alliance (AFBA) City Guide 2015, #ATXBESTBITES.

Some changes to the guide this year will include reviews of rising stars, and omissions of spots that are no longer open, have inactive websites, disappeared without a trace (Bud! You broke my heart!), or just don't cut the mustard in terms of service, reliability, or quality. Look for reviews for newcomers this year: including Cleveland's (in Buda), Mouton's in Leander, and Sawyer & Co., East Austin, below.

Many bowls were consumed. 

When I moved to Austin from South Louisiana in the late 90's, the Cajun scene was, sadly, a desert. There was one spot downtown, offering a less-than-fresh excuse for a seafood boil, and a regional chain, which still serves hundreds a day, competently. Being a single girl, visits there, even if for a bowl of their delicious lobster bisque, alone, were a rare treat on a working girl's budget. There remained little flavor of a Louisiana variety as far as I'd found. With no other obvious choices, free chips and salsa and two-dollar tacos became the mainstay of my miserly dining out budget.

No gumbo, no oysters, no poboys, no etouffee, no pain perdu, no softshell crab, no crawfish boils.

I was one homesick girl, friends.

Mais now, some 18 years later, how things have changed. Austin has grown by leaps and bounds, and luckily, so has Louisiana's presence on the local food scene. Big changes have come since one nasty girl, Katrina, visited the Gulf Coast, some 10 years ago, displacing and dispersing some fine creole cooks and budding entrepreneurs who have now encouraged, influenced, and transplanted themselves right into the thick of things.


I am happy to report, now, YES to gumbo, oysters, poboys, etouffee, pain perdu, softshell crab, crawfish boils, and MORE. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and desserts, from budget to elegant dining, North, South, East, West, and Central--you'll find delicious Cajun/Creole fare that meets every meal, budget and yearning just around many Austin corners. Some of my favorite include:

BREAKFAST AND BRUNCH

Cherrywood Coffee House is serving up Creole breakfast fare with several options for weekend brunch, from 10-3, along with an exceptional cup of Joe. Don't miss: The incredible Crawfish Omelet, sauteed plump well-seasoned crawfish tails sauteed with chopped vegetables and spinach served just at the peak of crisp doneness, enrobed in a light, fluffy egg taco and served with choice of side (get the CHEESE GRITS, get the CHEESE GRITS, did I mention CHEESE GRITS? you ought to try the CHEESE GRITS!)

Hoover's Cooking is still a favorite spot for weekend breakfasts, and his Etouffee-smothered Grits, Fried Catfish or Chicken over Biscuits, never disappoints. (That's me in the corner. In the shades. Rough morning. Hoover will help.)

The popular and dependable Cypress Grill, where the only thing bad about their Cajun Hash and Cypress Eggs Benedict is that I can't have them every day of the week, knows how to do brunch, as well as lunch and dinner, and they do them all quite well. Long-standing surprise-in-a-strip-mall, with legions of fans.

And expect a bit of a wait at this year's newest entry, Sawyer & Co. The buzz on this place is well-deserved. A recent Sunday brunch served up Eggs Sardou-- two perfectly-poached eggs on a bed of bright, fresh spinach, not drowned, but amply dressed with a spotless Hollandaise. They offer a fantastic Bloody Mary, but if that's not your speed, do try the Vieux Cafe', a high octane, eye-opening, hair-of-the-dog hangover helper.

But don't stop at brunch! Sawyer & Co. serve (weekday)breakfast, lunch and dinner, too. Grilled oysters, Chicken & Sausage Gumbo, Happy's Boudin, Sensation Salad, Seafood Salad with Fried Oysters, and Creole Catfish all pass muster with flying colors. Haven't yet tried the Deviled Eggs with Praline Bacon. What is wrong with me?

FAST AND CASUAL

You ever get thirsty, friends? You know, really thirsty? The type of thirsty that nothing other than an ice-cold Abita Purple Haze can quench? Well join us at the oyster bar over at Quality Seafood (also mentioned below). Forgo the regular menu, get an ice cold Abita from the case, belly up, and slurp down a dozen or so of their plump, briny oysters on the half shell, in season. They have some of the finest around. Check out their website for a full menu and market news.

Local 'best of' many things--Evangeline CafĂ©, in South Austin, for a friendly infusion of Cajun hospitality and joie de vivre, is a must-go on your itinerary. Delicious food (Oysters Contraband is a personal favorite--housemade chips topped with fried oysters and spicy sausage remoulade, meant to be shared. Meant to be.) served from M-Th 11-9:30, and F-S 11am-10pm, when the kitchen closes and the fais do do begins! Great bands play live, Monday through Saturday.

Behind the Bites

If you're itching to catch a favorite game, it's a good bet you'll find it on one of the many screens around Shoal Creek Saloon, but be forewarned--Saints and Tigers games get first billing and those are the days in which you'll find yourself among a sea of purple, or black, and gold (and that is a very fine thing.) The Smoked Duck, Chicken, and Sausage Gumbo, the recipe originally created by former chef and owner of Bud's Poboys, below, which is NOWHERE to be found. I am bereft.) is one of my favorites in the city. In season, Shoal Creek throws a Cajun-proper crawfish boil on evenings and weekends, but call ahead--dem mudbugs go fast.

I had a hard time getting to Crawfish Shack and Oyster Bar's first location. A bit out of the way, and honestly? Shacks just don't sound all that appealing to me. But I can admit when I'm wrong, and I was put in my place after visiting both locations. The boiled crawfish are served robed in a butter-flavored sauce, and while maybe not a purist's first choice, wins me, and a strong fan base, over with both mild and spicier options. (Go spicy!) A smidge off of traditional but a good option when you get that crawfish jones in the spring. If you're coming from downtown Austin, the South location is a bit closer, and a bit tidier.

BIG EASY ELEGANCE

While Cajun food is often thought of as highly-spiced fried fare (which robs the colorful essence from true Cajun cuisine), more delicate and refined dishes embody Creole cuisine. Gumbo's in Bee Cave for brunch once reflected that elegance in food; Gumbo's and Mama Roux legacy, French Quarter Grille still does. If you're looking for an upscale experience, true to creole cuisine from start to finish, French Quarter Grille is an excellent option.

The French Quarter Grille, Round Rock location, has closed, sadly, but the Austin/Pflugerville North Austin location is still going strong. Shown clockwise, from top left, Chicken and Sausage Gumbo, Oysters Rockefeller, Fried Green Tomatoes topped with Crab Remoulade, and, bottom left, Crawfish Beignets. Impossible to name the best--I recommend going hungry, and trying them all. Don't miss the popular Orange Creme Brulee for dessert.

FURTHER UP THE ROAD

Mouton's Southern Bistro in Leander was brought to my attention by a City Guide reader a year ago, and it was my pleasure to visit this little jewel recently. Located on Highway 183 in Leander, Mouton's is a diamond in the not-too-rough, and serves up creole fare the likes of which my sweet granny never made. The Gumbo passes muster with a dark, dark roux, the shrimp and grits will fill you up and keep you full for the entire day weekend, and those Red Beans and Rice? Well they are the best I've had this side of the Mississippi, cher. Mouton's offers scads more, and a few Texas favorites as well, but I'm tellin' you, don't pass up the Red Beans and Rice, whatever you do.

As thousands of weekend bikers will attest, Austin, and the surrounding Hill Country, is a rider's paradise. Winding roads, big skies, and beautiful scenery, are found northwest of the city on Farm to Market 1431 (FM 1431), which travels from Taylor, at its eastern terminus, to Lake Buchanan at its western, and the section on the north shore of Lake Travis, from west of Cedar Park to Marble Falls is especially scenic. When the open air finds you parched and hungry, and close to Jonestown, fate has smiled upon you, friend. Parrain's Louisiana Kitchen is the perfect stop for a cold beer or glass of wine, or two, the area's best boudin balls, hearty grub and more refined dishes as well, and on a recent visit, ice-cold oysters on the half shell that were the size of my fist. Almost. Of course getting there by car, while less of an adventure, is perfectly enjoyable, too.

And in the opposite direction, south of town, Cleveland's, on Main in Buda, offers fresh takes on traditional favorites. The spacious location has a full bar with Bayou State football playing on several screens, during the best season all year the football season.

They frequently offer live music on the patio, and serve Brunch, Lunch, Traditional Dinner, and Creole Dinner in addition to a bar menu that includes traditional cocktails, specialty drinks, a full wine list, draft beers, bottled beers, and hard ciders. Brunchtime $2 Mimosas and Bloody Mary's for the win!

For brunch, the Eggs Cleveland are hard to pass up. The Seafood Gumbo (title picture of post) is deep mahogany and each bite brought my hungry heart and tummy just a bit closer to my former home. It's simply poetic, that gumbo. I'd add a few shakes of hot sauce, as the gumbo is a bit milder than traditionally served, but those who prefer their Creole fare just a bit west of spicy tradition will find a great bowl of sublime.
For dinner, I recommend the Creole menu, of course. For a group (or for leftovers), start with the Taste of Cleveland trio of traditional creole mainstays, then keep it light with the New Orleans Italian-Style Salad-- chopped romaine with tomato, olive tapenade, boiled shrimp, and asparagus. Topped with croutons & Parmesan cheese.

One day, I'm going to just cut to the chase and order a steaming cup of iron-clad black coffee and that seductive dessert, Bananas Foster. Oh, Foster.

PROVISIONS

Fresh seafood is the crown jewel of Quality Seafood, also mentioned above. Fresh and frozen gumbo fixings include gumbo blue crab, shucked pints and oysters in the shell, and at least one type of shrimp (Call ahead to ensure heads-on, when available). You'll find cold Abita beer in their beverage case, too. While you're there, sit a spell and EAT. Quality Seafood has recently expanded, and boasts a pretty sweet open grill from which deliciously Chargrilled Oysters are plucked and presented. Check out their menu, and get yo'selves over there, friends.

In Northwest Austin, and now a new location in South Austin, discover the Cajun market and cafe, Stuffed Cajun Meat Market, serving popular standard daily specials-- crawfish etouffee, smothered green beans, boudin (mildly-spiced), and more. Skip the cornbread and ask for a loaf of Gambino's bread. They'll fish it out of the cooler in back, and it will be worth every little bit of trouble. They sell hard-to-find Louisiana brands-- Blue Plate mayo, Zatarains Creole Mustard, my favorite brand of seafood boil, and Camelia brand dried red beans, and have freezers stocked with cajun favorites to take home.

CAJUN/CREOLE ON WHEELS


THIS IS WHERE THE PART ABOUT BUD'S POBOYS GOES.  SEE??

Bud's Poboys took a little bit of hunting down, but the trek was worth every bit of the trouble. Bud's Poboys, now in its new location in the Mueller Development, serves up a mahogany-rouxed Shrimp Gumbo that did not disappoint, and the special of that day, a rare but stuff-of-which-a-Cajun's-dreams-are-made Softshell Crab Poboy, was fried crisp and light, best-dressed, and pressed between two slices of perfectly toasted New Orleans-style bread. This fella has some major Creole/Cajun chops.

I HEARD THE NEWS TODAY. BUD'S IS NOWHERE TO BE FOUND. NO OTHER WORD. BEREFT.  That is all.

BUT STILL, SOME BRIGHT SPOTS

Beignets! I discovered Sugar Addicts Bakery by mistake several years ago. I did a James Rockford-esque middle of the road, 180 degree turn when that word shouted at me from across the road, and I'm here to tell you that piece of daring-do was rewarded sumptuously. Three warm, soft pillows-- slightly crisp exterior, dusted in a storm of powdered sugar. Sugar Addicts Bakery, now located on Hancock Drive, serves gloriously plain beignets, breakfast beignets, lunch beignets, and a little bit more. The best, maybe only, beignet I've had outside of the French Quarter, and dare I say inside the Quarter, too? Oh, friend, they are just that good. Get there. Take extra napkins.

YEAH, THAT ONE'S GONE, TOO, dang it.

Baton Creole was knee-deep in construction dust upon my unannounced arrival at their former location, last year, and they've moved to a new location on Sixth Street, since. STILL, I haven't gotten to taste what everyone's raving about on social media. Have you been? Talk to me! Meet me there. Let's give it a go!

While not an exhaustive overview (but, yes, somewhat exhausting), I've covered all of my favorite Creole/Cajun spots. It's really quite a feat-- almost torturous, I tell ya. But I take my mission seriously, as do my local Austin Food Blogger Alliance colleagues. This guide is only one of many posts that encompass our annual City Guide. There are guides sorted by neighborhoods, ethnic cuisines, food fun and events, happy hours, and more!


Do you have any favorite spots to add? Maybe some hole in the wall I haven't yet discovered? Did I miss a favorite dish? Questions about a specific location? Please don't hesitate to leave your thoughts in the comments, below. I'm always looking for a new place to try! And if you're out and about, looking for a fantastic creole meal, I just might see you there!

C'est Ci Bon!

8 comments:

  1. Excellent review of Creole and Cajun cuisine in the Austin area! I didn't know that some of these places existed and I am excited to add them to my next food adventure around town. Very enjoyable read! Thanks! Patrick Janacek

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    1. Patrick! Thank you so much. I've just heard of a new place. Maybe we can catch up over a bowl of gumbo ?

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  2. Have you been to Nubian Queen Lola's? I have always wanted to try it out. We have been to Cleveland's in Buda and thought it was really bland. It needed more spice.

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    1. Hey Jimmy!
      I have included NQLola's in previous years, but because she is pretty difficult to pin down re opening hours and the meals I've had there have been a little hit and miss, in all honesty, (simply because she was the only person there, and had somewhere to go), I had to omit from this guide. I LOVE what she is all about, and I really want to root for her hard!

      I find, in general, that many of the creole spots tend to spice it down for the general public, here, which seems to prefer things more mildly prepared than the fans of cajun/creole generally come to expect. I miss that! I say bring on the CAYENNE. PLEASE.

      Thanks for dropping by!
      Maggie

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  3. Sugar Addicts Bakery is closed.

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    1. Thanks, Rob. I'll make that notation.

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  4. My favorite place, bar none, has to be Louisiana Longhorn Cafe up in Round Rock. This is the place that I can bring my Baton Rouge born-and-bred parents without a whisper of complaint... the gumbo is great, the fried alligator worth fighting over, and the giant po-boy satisfies even the deepest hunger!

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    1. Andy, thanks so much for your thoughts on Louisiana Longhorn. Quite honestly, I think they should be in this article, too, and when I update next year's guide, I'm going to remedy that! And what fine parents you must have if they are from Baton Rouge! GEAUX Tigers!

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