Bayou Blues Cafe is the real thing from the Cajun country

August 13, 1998|By Kathryn Higham | Kathryn Higham,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Bayou Blues is the real deal, and that's not just my opinion. I asked two friends who had just returned from an eating tour of New Orleans to help me assess the authenticity of the Cajun dishes at this new White Marsh restaurant. The result: Three thumbs up.

But food is not the only draw at Bayou Blues. There's live jazz and blues every night of the week until 2 a.m. Since the headliners start at 9 p.m., our advice is to skip the forgettable desserts, and finish your meal with a drink in the lounge where the musicians perform. There, a wall of iron scrollwork and ivy calls to mind the intricate porches of the French Quarter.

There are Southern-style touches in the dining room, too - dark-green plantation shutters, Big Easy chandeliers and a Mardi Gras-patterned carpet, loomed with confetti, beads and coins.

Owned by Ken Crawford, Bayou Blues opened last March in The Avenue, the open-air shopping mall meant to look like the typical American Main Street.

But it was the flavor of Bourbon Street we were after, so we ordered a round of Abita microbrews from New Orleans and some appetizers that tasted as if they hailed from the same place. The smooth, shrimp-studded gumbo got its soul from a dark roux and authentic andouille sausage.

The menu warned that crispy pieces of fried alligator tail were chewy, but we found them manageable because they were cut so thinly. We dipped them into a sweet glaze, a cross between orange marmalade and horseradish sauce.

Our waiter, who was young but on top of his game, suggested the Cajun quesadilla appetizer - tortilla wedges filled with spiced cream cheese, shrimp and crawfish. The runny cream cheese made them seem more like blintzes or crepes, but overall the fusion of flavors worked, helped by a zippy garnish of corn, peppers and tomatoes.

That salsa alternative is called maque choux, and we tried a different version of it in an entree served over rice. Jumbo cubes of moist, grilled chicken were tossed with a Cajun vegetable mix: fresh corn kernels, celery, red peppers, onions and tomatoes. We asked for our chicken maque choux with "New Orleans kick" rather than as "Maryland mild," and it had the perfect cayenne scorch for heat lovers.

The crawfish etouffee over rice was mild in contrast but had the nutty richness that comes from a good roux. Dozens of curled crawfish tails were coated in the brown gravy along with fat cuts of celery and green and red bell peppers.

Besides Cajun dishes and classics such as chicken Marsala and shrimp scampi, there's a full listing of hand-cut steaks on the menu. We tried the tender steak au poivre: two juicy tenderloins encrusted with cracked peppercorns on a satiny cushion of decadent brandy sauce. Instead of rice or a baked potato, we chose creamy "smashed" red-skin potatoes to go with the steak, and the same huge portion of steamed vegetables that came with our other dinners.

As for presentation of the dishes, the kitchen earned a star for its edible confetti - tiny bits of carrot and red cabbage that look like the vegetable world's contribution to Mardi Gras.

Bayou Blues Cafe

8133-A Honeygo Blvd., The Avenue, White Marsh


Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner

Credit cards: American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa

Prices: Appetizers, $3.99-$7.99; entrees, $7.99-$23.99

Food: *** Service: *** Atmosphere: ***

Ratings system: Outstanding: ****; Good ***; Fair or uneven **; Poor *

Pub Date: 8/13/98

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