If you want to test any local foodie’s street cred, just ask them if they’re a fan of Creole Kitchen. This hole-in-the-wall restaurant is often used as a litmus test to figure out who is willing to venture outside of their comfort zones to off-the-beaten-path locations in search of authentic regional cuisine. On a personal note, I’ve only been here a few times, so my foodie street cred is pretty minimal at best.
Located in the Mount Vernon Plaza strip mall in the heart of the Near East Side, a trip to Creole Kitchen can feel like an adventure in itself. The exterior of the building barely contains any signage, so unless you know exactly where you’re going, you’re likely to get lost. The interior of the restaurant doesn’t fare much better. It’s limited to take-out service only with a few chairs available to sit and wait for your order to ready. Everything about the place comes across as homegrown, entrepreneurial and hand made. That can be limiting when it comes to curb appeal, but thankfully that’s usually a great sign when it comes to cooking.
The Gumbo ($5.00 bowl) is thick, hearty and dark. A fairly traditional take on this Louisiana staple, this stew is loaded with rice, onion, celery, bell peppers, okra and sausage. The stock is meaty with a heavy dose of pepper that give it a medium-sized kick. The spices and flavors are infused really well, which is always a good sign of a long, slow proper cooking process.
The Crawfish Étouffée ($12.95) contains stewed tomatoes, green bell peppers, seasonings, and a large helping of baby crawfish served over a bed of rice. The roux was thick and spicy, and all ingredients and flavors combined worked well together. Disassembled, the tomatoes were flat and straight from a can, and the crawfish being on the smaller side were of the bulk variety and not as flavorful as a fresh caught batch would taste much closer to the gulf. Still, those complaints are minor, and the portion is quite large for the price of this entree.
Creole’s Chicken Andouille Jambalaya ($10.95) is another traditional dish, served with large chunks of white breast meat, andouille sausage, tomatoes, onions, peppers, white rice and other spices and seasonings. Of the entrees I tried, this one was probably my least favorite. The chicken was under-seasoned, and with such large quantities of it present, that threw off the balance of the dish for me. The andouille was mildly spicy and flavorful, but it wasn’t enough to make up for the rest. The redeeming quality once again is the value, so if you do enjoy this version of this dish, you can get excited that you’re getting nearly four regular sized portions for your $11.
The Catfish Po Boy ($7.00) contains large filets breaded in corn flour and served on a hoagie bun. Condiments include lettuce, tomato and bell peppers. As my favorite dish from Creole Kitchen as of late, this po boy delivers. The breading is thin, crisp and loaded with flavor. The toppings are fresh and make a perfect combination together. And the bun is buttered and toasted giving it an extra punch. Hands down one of the finest po boys in all of Columbus.
The Macaroni & Cheese (small $2 / large $4) came as a side with one of my entrees, but it can also be ordered separately. The cheese used tastes similar to something from the Velveeta family, and other than a small dash of pepper, there’s not much else going on here. That can be a good thing if you’re a fan of homemade mac and cheese made from Velveeta, or a bad thing if you prefer other types of cheese. I prefer the latter, but I’ll leave it up to you to decide on this one.
Kettle Chips (come with Po Boys) are the standard side for sandwiches, but I thought they were worthy of mention, as they are made in house at Creole Kitchen. Potatoes are thick-cut and deep fried to a dark brown (might were a little darker than usual this time around, but that’s not always the case) and then seasoned with a spice mix that tastes pretty similar to Old Bay. These chips are a great rendition of Zapp’s (based in Louisiana) and dare I say even tastier. Do not pass these up.
Last but not least, I tried out a slice of the Brown Sugar Pound Cake ($2) which was a special dessert of the day. The cake was soft and moist, but fared as a pretty standard pound cake. The brown sugar topping was pretty scarcely applied to the top of the cake, leaving most bites lacking of that flavor. This could have really shined with some sort of brown sugar drizzle or glaze, and would have been worth an extra dollar or two.
Overall, Creole Kitchen is a great bang for the buck. Portions are ridiculously large, and thankfully most cajun and creole food seems to reheat well as leftovers. Leave your inhibitions at the door and venture inside this colorful eatery and you will be more than likely be rewarded with some of the most soulful home cooking not made by your own mother/grandmother.
Creole Kitchen is located at 1052 Mount Vernon Avenue in the Mount Vernon Plaza on the Near East Side.More information can be found online at www.creolekitchen.biz.