Paula Jo and I had a very fine meal last Thursday evening at the French Quarter Grille, formerly Mama Roux. The tragic loss of the owners of that popular spot left a massive hole in the Cajun/Creole dining choices in Austin. Since that’s one of the great spicy cuisines, I noticed the loss rather sharply. Neither one of us expected to see a “replacement” New Orleans style restaurant in the area any time soon.
We were pleasantly surprised to hear that the French Quarter Grille was opening within weeks, and in the same location! Makes sense, if the idea’s viewed from the outside. The building was intact, furnishings and all, sitting there unused. It was a bold move by new owner, Scott Stolle, to act decisively to open the new place. (Psychologically tough as well, as you might imagine; but you can get the details from Scott when you see him.)
Most of the previous staff are back, which means the taste of the dishes and the quality of service is outstanding. Only a few cosmetic changes were made to the décor, and I find that appropriate. We were greeted quickly and warmly, and since we were early for the evening seating we had our choice of tables. We selected a corner booth in the back and settled in. Upbeat jazz music was playing, not too loud, providing a good atmosphere. Lighting in the dining area is indirect and soft, with no harsh spots while not dark and gloomy. A very welcoming environment.
Our server was Noah, who waited on us once before, when we first went to Mama Roux. Surprisingly, he remembered us! (I guess I have one of those faces.) We ordered drinks and declined appetizers, and when he came back I asked him about the changeover to the new business. He admitted it was tough at first, but he was glad he’d joined Scott and the rest of the folks in the new effort.
On to the food! The menu is simple without being what I would call limited. Several appetizers, including the novel Southern dish of Fried Green Tomatoes. Gumbo, Etouffée and Crab Cakes are available as well, with prices ranging from $4.95 for a cup of Red Beans and Rice to $14.95 for a a big bowl of gumbo with lump crabmeat, actually suitable as an entrée. You can turn the Red Beans and Rice into a meal as well, by adding chicken (add $12.95) or blackened pork tenderloin (add $13.95).
The salad selection is uncomplicated: House, Caesar an Grilled Chicken Caesar, Blackened Salmon or Blackened Shrimp, and a Crab and Shrimp dish. Prices for these range from $4.95 for the side salads to $13.95 for the dinner salads. All the dressings are homemade too.
If you prefer lunch, there are three po’boys available: Shrimp, Oyster or Pork. At $10.95-11.95, these are great options. Several pasta dishes are offered as well, with chicken, shrimp, crawfish and tilapia varieties. Sauces range from creamy creole tomato to brandy cream and butter and white wine, depending on dish choice.
Of the entrées, PJ chose the Chicken Benjamin ($17.95), which is a chicken breast crusted in French fried onions and topped with prosciutto, Swiss cheese and sautéed crawfish, all on a base of mushroom brandy cream. This plate was quite beautiful, and the mixture of flavors is most interesting. I settled on the Grilled Ribeye ($23.95). That meal starts with a large steak, coated with seasonings and grilled. The steak is topped with caramelized onions and mushrooms, which play together well with the zesty cayenne and other spices on the meat. Grilled asparagus completes the plate, which also comes with garlic mashed potatoes.
Dinner rolls were served with our drinks and replenished as needed. The rolls aren’t special, but the garlic butter they come with certainly is. Chunks of fresh garlic and plentiful herbs.
After we’d worked our way through most of our entrées, PJ’s best friend called and asked if she could join us. By the time she arrived we were just starting on our dessert: Croissant bread pudding with caramel-rum sauce and a big scoop of Blue Bell ice cream on the top. A word of advice: Stop short on your main dish and get the rest of that in a takeout box, so you’ll have plenty of room for this scrumptious treat. Wunderbar!
Miss D, who’s our resident Cajun, said she only wanted an appetizer: She chose the fried crawfish. I asked her how the dish was, and she said the mudbugs were fresh and treated properly. The breading was light and crispy and the tails were tender, not chewy. No residual oil from the frying. Some heat in the seasoning, but not overpowering. It was a good sized and filling portion as well. A good value, in her opinion.
All in all, we had a fine experience at the French Quarter Grille. We’ll be back, probably often enough to become “regulars.” It’s only five minutes from PJ’s work, after all…
French Quarter Grille, 13000 N. IH-35, Austin, TX 78753. Phone 512.832.9090. Open six days a week: Monday lunch (11 AM –2 PM); Tuesday-Thursday, lunch and dinner (11 AM – 2 PM and 5 PM – 9 PM); Friday and Saturday, lunch and dinner (11 AM – 2 PM and 5 PM – 10 PM). Nightly specials and handmade desserts. Beer and wine available with meals; no bar service.
Enjoy the (Cajun Creole Renewal) Heat!
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