Nothing pleases me more than good word of mouth about a new local restaurant. Formal press releases, opening party invitations, and faxed menus are all well and good, but it's great to get the scoop on a new place from someone I trust who has already tried it and loved it. In the case of the southwest Louisiana-style Evangeline Cafe, the good words came from the mouth of a Morgan City, La., native whose maiden name is Boudreau. When she said Curtis Clarke's cooking tasted like home to her, I got there in a hurry. Louisiana native Clarke spent the past dozen years managing kitchens for the Serranos folks and finally struck out on his own last spring, opening the Evangeline in an abandoned Maudie's location on Brodie Lane. Now that I've sampled several dishes from Clarke's menu, I'm betting that plenty of Louisiana ex-pats and Cajun/Creole food lovers alike will beat a path to his door. His food is the gen-u-ine article, chere.
Relax with an ice-cold Louisiana beer (or a steaming cup of Community Cafe au lait) and Dr. John pounding the ivories on the sound system. Start with one of Clarke's signature dishes, the Stuffed Pistolette ($2.50), a crusty little French roll (imported weekly from Lake Charles) stuffed with either shrimp or crawfish in a spicy cream sauce. Do your best not to fill up on the absolutely marvelous homemade potato chips with chipotle mayo for dipping. Try a link of his feisty rice sausage Boudin ($2.25) or some Wings ($5.75) doused in Louisiana hot sauce before tucking into a bowl of Chicken and Sausage Gumbo ($3.25)
Once your appetite is stimulated, it's time to move on to po'boys, an inviting list of Cajun/Creole specialties, and the multitude of fried seafood options. Both the Fried and Grilled Shrimp Po'Boys are delicious, and the intensely spiced, sloppy handful of a Roast Beef Po'Boy will rock your world if you're fond of the debris sandwiches famous in New Orleans. Back that up with a big serving of delicate, lacy homemade onion rings and you're in heaven. Crawfish Evangeline ($7.95) is a voluptuous concoction featuring plump crawfish tails in a rich, spicy cream sauce over fettucine that is not for the faint of heart or appetite. When it comes to seafood, Clarke has developed a specific batter for each item, so shrimp, oysters, catfish, and stuffed crabs will have their own distinct and pleasing flavor. In fact, all the fried items we've sampled here, from the homemade potato chips and wonderful onion rings to each of the seafood options, are expertly fried, crisp, and light. There's a definite art to that. It's all simple food, carefully prepared, and served in an atmosphere of warm hospitality. It's well worth the trip to far southwest Austin, though only marginally closer than Acadiana.