A good friend of mine, a regular New Orleans visitor, has been raving to me for several months about Bud's Louisiana Food Shoppe. He knows I've had a lot of bad Cajun food and assured me this was the real deal.
We finally managed to make it down to Bud's cozy, welcoming space the other night. Open for about a year, Bud's is run by second-generation New Orleanian Bud Deslattes and his business partner, Rob Adams.
Bud's traditional menu is divided into po boy sandwiches; soups, salads and appetizers; main dishes, some of which can be ordered small or large; and desserts. We ordered a fried oyster appetizer, seafood bisque, a BBQ shrimp po boy, crawfish etoufée and jambalaya. It sounds like a lot, but for three hungry people it was fine.
I was a bit surprised when we were asked how sensitive we are to spiciness. Isn't that the point of Cajun food? I remember that when Cajun cooking was popular in the '80s, the spiciness was always stressed.
"Most traditional New Orleans-style food is just moderately spicy," Adams explained, adding, "I've had people who are super-sensitive to spicy have two bites and they can't eat anymore." As a result, the people at Bud's make sure the food won't hurt you.
Since the collective spicy level at our table was fireproof, we weren't too worried. The server returned quickly with our appetizers. The oysters were wrapped in bacon, battered and fried, served with a house-made remoulade for dipping (a tart, creamy concoction). The batter was super-light and crisp, the oysters briny. These were OK, but not really to my taste.
Better by far was the seafood bisque, which was light and creamy with a delicious blend of tomato and seafood flavor. I would definitely order this again.
The presentation of the entrées was simple but effective. Instead of giant plates decorated with drizzles and other whatnots, the plates are small and the food unadorned. Utilitarian to be sure, but the food looks and smells so good that the lack of garnish is irrelevant.
The colors in particular were impressive. I've had lame attempts at jambalaya before. To see it prepared at most local establishments, one might think the dish akin to Mexican rice with some sausage chunks and shrimp thrown in. Usually, it's quite boring and bland, bright red from the heavy blend of tomato paste.
Here, however, the jambalaya was brown in color-the deep hue indicative of the deep flavor. Large slices of nicely browned andouille sausage crowned the dish, and the rice was dense with chicken, Tasso ham (a New Orleans staple) and bits of the vegetable trinity-carrot, celery and onion.
The etoufée also boasted the same deep color, achieved through the use of something called roux, a blend of flour and either butter or oil, cooked over low heat. The longer the roux is cooked, the darker the color, and the deeper and nuttier the flavor. Judging from the dishes at Bud's, they spend a lot of time on their roux.
Dense with buttery and tender crawfish tails, the etoufée was rich and filling. The spiciness of both it and the jambalaya wasn't excessive-but it also wasn't exactly mild. There was a nice burn to both of these dishes, but there were other layers to the flavor. Both were outstanding.
The po boy was also quite good, the shrimp perfectly cooked, buttery and quite spicy from cayenne pepper. The French roll was crusty and fresh, and the dressing of shredded red cabbage, pickles and jalapeño tartar sauce accompanied the shrimp nicely.
We wrapped up our meal with a couple of Bud's house-made desserts: a "wet" bread pudding with a white chocolate and Frangelico sauce, and something called Creole pecan pie, consisting of a layer of cheesecake topped with pecan-pie filling. Both were great, though my favorite was the bread pudding.
I'd never had such a pudding-like bread pudding before. So often I find bread pudding overly bready and dry; this was the complete opposite of that. The white chocolate sauce added a velvety texture of it's own, making it a very sensual dessert experience. Don't pass this one up.
Bud's prices are reasonable, with po boys and entrées both fetching between $8 and $12. A full selection of New Orleans beer is also available to cool your tongue. Bud's is open Tuesday through Saturday, with lunch served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and dinner from 5 to 9 p.m.