Do you want Cajun food in Austin? Sure you do. But you want Louisiana Cajun done by a Lake Charles native who cooks only in accordance with traditional Cajun recipes, right? Cajun food that will make even a Louisiana transplant drop their spoon and holler “Ai-yeeee”?
Then what you want is Evangeline Café.
With a big smile, outgoing personality and trademark handlebar moustache, Curtis Clarké opened his homage to Texas' rowdy little brother to the east in September of 2003. In short order, Evangeline has become a staple for Louisiana cuisine and live roots music in South Austin, winning Best Sandwich and Best Cajun Food in numerous citywide newspaper polls.
And the restaurant certainly looks the part. All the basics are covered… the walls are adorned with the requisite amount of neon and beads, and there seems to be an L.S.U. jersey or bumper sticker every two feet. But it's the small decorative touches - a table surfaced with Abita beer bottle caps, candles wrapped with the photos of blues legends, nearly a dozen different hot sauces on each table - that give the café its distinctive flair. “What I've tried to create in this space here is a home for the Louisiana transplants… so they feel like they've driven 350 miles back to a small hometown café in Southwest Louisiana,” explains Clarké.
Southwest Louisiana is significant, because it was the original settlement for the Cajun French when they were evicted by the British from Nova Scotia and then run out of New Orleans in the mid-1700's. And talk about a 'melting pot;” the Cajun recipes mixed with the recipes of Indians and runaway slaves and created what Clarké explains is traditional Southwest Louisiana Cajun cuisine. “You go to South Louisiana and virtually every adult you come across can cook something.”
In fact, it was from his friends back home that Clarké learned how to cook. According to him, no two recipes at Evangeline Café are from the same person, and many are mixtures of two or more recipes. Likewise, all of the fried catfish, oysters and shrimp have their own batter, recipe, and history.
“Some of the best compliments are when people from Louisiana say, 'man, that's the best gumbo I've had since I used to go to my Grandma's house,'” says Clarké. “Playing second fiddle to your mom or your Grandma is fine by me.”
But he's not content to come in second to anyone else. Clarké notes that, although some Cajun restaurants are bigger and busier, he feels they often have a lack of appreciation for the general public's desire for good service and quality food.
“I'm more discriminating than a lot of other people seem to be,” explains Clarké. “You might be able to find some place that can get you a fried shrimp basket quicker than I do it, but I won't tell you it's going to be any fresher or any better.”
No doubt the food is bona fide, but you need not be intimidated that Evangeline Café might be too spicy for your particular palate. Clarké promises, “With traditional Cajun, no one flavor should override the other.” However, if you are a fan of heat, the café has recently introduced Gold Band Creole, consisting of seven oversized fried shrimp served over fettuccini with an eye-watering Creole tomato-based sauce concocted by Mr. Clarké.
But the star of the menu is the Oysters Contraband, featuring Mr. Clarké's zesty, but not overpowering, signature Jalapeno Rémoulade over fried oysters on a bed of homemade potato chips. Worry about your arteries later; this dish is absolutely divine.
It's a long drive to Louisiana, but Curtis Clarké and Evangeline Café can save you the trouble. Authentic Cajun food is as close as Brodie Lane, and as close to perfect as you're likely to find.