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Cajun Invasion

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Bourbon Street
35 N Front St.
(910) 762-4050
Mon. – Sun., 11 a.m. – 2 a.m.
Bottom line: It’s vibrant, fun and tasty.

PASTA WITH A BITE: Try Bourbon Street’s signature jambalaya pasta, which comes with shrimp, crab and courtesy crawfish over noodles rather than rice. Courtesy photo Bourbon Street

PASTA WITH A BITE: Try Bourbon Street’s signature jambalaya pasta, which comes with shrimp, crab and courtesy crawfish over noodles rather than rice. Courtesy photo Bourbon Street

As I sat in Bourbon Street, the new downtown restaurant at the corner of Princess and Front streets, I silently tried to count all of the restaurants which had come and gone: Paleo Sun, Bijoux, Prima, Carribay Soul, the relocation of Caffe Phoenix… And that only covered the last decade; I knew my list wasn’t complete. Locals often kid that the space is cursed because of its turnaround; however, its new tenant, Bourbon Street, is doing something to keep diners excited.

Kitschy and cute, the Nawlins’ themed eatery is naturally named for its famed thoroughfare. Successfully, the restaurant recreates a snippet of the Big Easy experience. The décor is striking. Alternately decked out in traditional purple and gold or covered in dilapidated art like rusty bicycles, Bourbon Street genuinely speaks to the New Orleans of the real world: a juxtaposition of touristy fun and real-world economic trouble. The rough wood interior gives the room an older feel, though the addition of several high-definition televisions mitigates that sensation.

And like the folksy personality of the Big Easy, the servers are nothing shy of friendly and knowledgeable. I was impressed with our waiter’s understanding of the menu and of its cuisine generally. Wait times never waned; in fact, both the kitchen and the bar moved fluidly. For a relatively new establishment, Bourbon Street figured out early on that amicability and expedience always serve a restaurant well.

My party opened with the sausage plate. The offering of Andouille and smoked sausage proved hearty enough for three; we were genuinely pleased with the results. The spicy Andouille came with a layer of crispy skin, and proved the clear winner of the two. The unmistakable blend of paprika and garlic accented the pork meat. The smoked sausage tasted nice, but took a definitive back seat.

I opted for crab meat pasta in a cream sauce, which came with more sausage and plump shrimp. Pleasingly, I discovered the sausage was more of the beloved Andouille. The crab meat provided a pleasant, fishy undercurrent to the meal, but I must admit the shrimp tasted a bit disappointing. Merely boiled and lacking any noticeable seasoning on their own, they gave no life to the dish. That was probably the only thing that broke the fourth wall and took me out of the New Orleans-themed fantasy Bourbon Street successfully provides.

Happily, the staple of Nawlins cuisine did not suffer from this problem. The jambalaya’s rice shouted itself dirty in all the right ways, from color to texture to taste. It was a genuine bayou experience, featuring Creole spices and hot sauce. Gentler palates might want to look elsewhere on the menu. Teeming with shrimp and Andouille, the dish tasted rich and flavorful with no two bites identical. The bite of the cayenne pepper did not remain constant, though.

Interestingly, Bourbon Street offers something I’d not seen before: a jambalaya pasta. Taking the spicy goodness of the jambalaya and replacing the rice with a pasta Alfredo corrected any complaints about the pasta and crab entrée. This fun little hybrid gave a nice change of pace for those looking to take a break from rice but still enjoy the New Orleans experience. The cayenne and hot sauce give a Creole flair that the boiled shrimp lacked on their own, and the creamy pasta softened the palate against the spice. This made the dish a little more manageable for anyone who has an issue with heavy seasoning.

Speaking of which, Bourbon Street does offer the standard in blackening seasoning, such as on a shrimp salad for lunch, served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. They also offer stuffed bell peppers, fried chicken, red beans and rice and ribs. Of course, Louisiana classics like etouffee and their famed muffuletta sandwich make an appearance. From what I hear, a their grilled Gulf oysters will start any meal with a bang. Though I didn’t sample them during my first two rounds, it’s slated for round three—as are their beignets and Cafe du Monde coffee.

My table went with the crème brûlée cheesecake for dessert and we did not regret it, may I add. The creamy cake counterpointed the hardened candy shell as a textural treat. And the bold use of vanilla (a phrase I never thought I’d write with positivity) lent an even greater richness.

Of course, for those just looking for a fun spot to enjoy drinks and live music, Bourbon Street will serve the need. They’re as much a lively bar as a restaurant, and like the name implies, well, they know how to party. They’re open daily from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., so late-night revelers are always welcome.

I’ve known enough Cajuns to see firsthand how very protective they are of their cultural identity. But as an outsider, I admit: I enjoyed Bourbon Street on its own merits. It’s vibrant, fun and tasty, and truth be told, I don’t know a Cajun who would disagree with that representation.

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