Thursday, May 24, 2012
A little bit of “De Bayou” in El Barrio!
By Benjamin Ramos Rosado
Nestled in the heart of 3rd avenue is a place where the corn bread is freshly baked; where the gumbo is rich and delicious; and where the heart and soul of the bayou is served to you on every plate! So if you are craving down home N‘Awlins flavor, then head to El Barrio and visit Creole!
Creole is an amazing restaurant and music supper club that serves authentic Louisiana Creole cooking. This unique cuisine combines French, Spanish, African, and Native American culinary influences together with classic southern cooking. Creole cooking evolved in the kitchens of the country plantation estates of well-to-do aristocrats of French descent in Louisiana.
Despite this cuisine’s haughty origins, Creole, the restaurant, is unpretentious and has a welcoming atmosphere. When you walk in, there’s a small stage to the right-where live jazz is performed a few nights out of the week- and on the left is an exposed brick wall with framed pictures of the performers that have graced their stage. Creole’s decor is uncomplicated and beautiful; there’s artwork everywhere, a large mural of their logo on the back wall, and a fully stocked six-stool bar.
Creole’s wait staff has written the book on good service. When I arrived, servers greeted me as I passed by them on my way to my table. My server provided me with great insight into the menu and answered all my questions with a smile. Good service is extremely difficult to find in this city and Creole’s staff sets the bar high.
As I looked over the menu, my server placed a small square of hot freshly baked corn bread with a pat of butter in front of me. The tantalizing aroma took me back to my childhood in Harlem!
When I was a kid, I would stop by our local soul food restaurant every morning, before school, to buy a piece of their fresh baked corn bread with butter. Ms. Mable, the owner and cook, always gave me an extra large piece because she was knew my father, the local bodagero, and according to her, “You are de cutest thang in de world!” She was right! With my rosy chubby cheeks and Navy blue catholic school uniform, I was adorable!
Sweet and moist, the corn bread was the perfect start to what would be an amazing meal. Menu open and appetite stimulated, I couldn’t wait to begin my culinary adventure to N’awlins.
Creole’s appetizers/tapas menu features classic Po boy sandwiches; Fried Okra; Louisiana crab cakes; Creole catfish strips and Baby back ribs. I ordered the Fried catfish Po boy sandwich-made with Italian bread, Mesculin, tomatoes with house dressing- and it was excellent. The catfish was well seasoned, moist and its breading was crispy, but not oily.
If you’ve never had a Po boy or have eaten that miserable excuse of a sandwich sold at Popeye’s, please run, don’t walk, to Creole and order a Po Boy. The genius behind a Po Boy is in its simplicity: Good bread, well-cooked meat, and delicious greens and tomatoes naturally leads to an awesome sandwich.
Also, I ordered The Fried Okra and it was excellent! I know okra isn’t popular because of the snot-like goo it secretes when cooked, but I beg you to look past this gooey prejudice and try this appetizer. With salt, pepper and butter, fried okra can be a delicacy! Don’t be afraid of the goo!
After two impressive appetizers, I eagerly skimmed the entrees and I couldn’t decide between: the Southern fried chicken (with Creole seasoning); Okra Gumbo (which is served with shrimp, chicken, sausage or vegetarian); or the Gator etouffe (alligator cooked in a tomato based wine and butter sauce with peppers, onions, garlic and Creole spices over coconut rice). With the exception of the gumbo and Alfredo dishes, Creole’s entrees are served with two classic southern sides, such as: Collard greens, vegetarian jambalaya rice, Black beans, 4 cheese baked macaroni, and candied yams.
After much thought, I ordered the Okra Gumbo with shrimp (Yes, I’m on an okra crusade!) and a side of collard greens. Usually, the gumbo is served with white rice, but I asked my server to substitute the white rice for the vegetarian jambalaya rice to kick it up a notch.
The gumbo arrived piping hot with a heavenly aroma. The gumbo’s roux- a creole spicy sauce made of fat and flour- was hearty and delicious. The celery, peppers and onions added a wonderful aldente crunch to the stew; the shrimp were perfectly cooked. The okra provided a soft yet firm texture to the gumbo that brought all the elements together harmoniously.
Good gumbo feels like a mother’s hug after a rough day and that’s exactly how I felt while eating it: comforted and loved.
The moist and flavorful vegetarian jambalaya rice added an extra kick of spice to the gumbo and the collard greens, prepared with garlic and onions, were good, but a bit over cooked.
Fully carbo-loaded, I decided to be a good diabetic and forgo dessert. It was painful to look through the dessert menu and realize I was missing out on a Key Lime tart; Sweet potato bread pudding with caramel and pecan sauce; and a Hot Sweet Potato Beignet -sautéed sweet potatoes with cinnamon, butter, and sugar stuffed into a puff pastry and baked until golden brown.
Next time I visit, the Hot Sweet Potato Beignet is going to be my appetizer! There is no way I’m missing out on this dessert again. Even writing the dessert’s description has me anxious to go back.
Amongst all the taquerias, cuchifritos and fondas, Creole is one of El Barrio’s best-kept secrets! So get on the 6 train and make your way uptown, or downtown, to this amazing bit of “de bayou” in El Barrio! You won’t be disappointed.
2167 3rd Ave @ E. 118 St.
HOURS: Mon. closed, Tues.-Fri. 12pm-11pm, Sat. 3pm-11pm, and Sun. 2-7pm
ATMOSPHERE: Laid-back and warm.
SERVICE: Friendly, attentive and timely.
SOUND LEVEL: Satisfactory, but remember some nights there is live jazz.
RECOMMENDED DISHES: See above
DRINKS AND WINE: Sorry folks, I don’t drink, but they did have wine, beer, and soda.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers ($5.95-$15), salads ($10.95), main courses ($12.95-$28.95)And desserts ($5.50-$6.50)