Creole Kitchen, a carryout gem, adds a full-service dining room.
Chef Henry Butcher was born and raised in Shreveport, Louisiana, and learned his trade at two of New Orleans' best Creole restaurants: Dooky Chase's and The Court of Two Sisters. He came to Columbus in 2006 and opened a hole-in-the-wall carryout in the King-Lincoln Bronzeville neighborhood, serving excellent fried catfish and Creole favorites. The neighborhood loved the place, but its influence didn't spread much beyond Mount Vernon Avenue and its environs.
But that may change soon. A few months ago, Butcher and his family (his son cooks, too, and other family members help manage the restaurant) added a dining room with table service and an expanded menu of New Orleans favorites. I can happily report that Butcher's newest iteration of Creole Kitchen gets most things right.
The restaurant is open for carryout during breakfast, lunch and dinner hours Monday through Saturday; the dining room also is open six days a week for lunch and dinner, plus breakfast on Saturday. It's well worth a visit to the colorfully decorated dining room, where you can enjoy some real jazz (often recorded but occasionally live) and that same great fried catfish, a bowl of gumbo or a big plate of shrimp étouffée.
If you're getting breakfast to go, be sure to add an order of beignets ($3), those pillowy doughnuts of Café du Monde fame showered with powdered sugar. These are the real deal, but don't wait to get them home. They are much better eaten in the parking lot or in your car—fresh, hot and slightly greasy from the fryer. You can clean up the car later.
The biscuits (just $1 with butter and jam; $4.50 as a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich) are well-made, but you can do one better. Instead, why not get Egg Basin Street ($7)—poached eggs on rice cakes with mildly spicy red beans, andouille sausage and a tangy béarnaise sauce?
At lunch and dinner, try the gumbo ($4) made with a dark (almost black) roux, which gives the thick soup a wonderfully smoky quality. This version has bits of chicken, andouille and a few shreds of crabmeat (I wish there were more). I appreciated the medium spice level, which allows you to taste all the ingredients.
Crawfish and shrimp étouffée ($14.95 full portion, $8 half portion; both with two sides) are tasty too, with plenty of cayenne pepper and garlic in a lighter, but still richly flavored, roux-based sauce. Chicken jambalaya ($10.95) is a disappointment with not enough spice, garlic or “holy trinity” (onion, green bell pepper and celery) to give it much flavor. The chicken pieces are dry chunks of breast meat, and sadly, the andouille (also dry) lacked heat.
It wouldn't be a New Orleans menu without po'boy sandwiches. Creole Kitchen offers several, including fried catfish ($10), pork chops ($9) and oysters ($14). The fried shrimp po'boy ($12) has plenty of big, crunchy battered shrimp—it's a huge sandwich and comes “fully dressed” with spicy mayo, lettuce, tomato and onion. I liked everything about it except the bread, which is way too heavy. A true N'awlins po'boy uses a light, French-style loaf with a crackling crust and fluffy interior. I bet chef Butcher could find the right bread around town—it would make these sandwiches better.
But back to Butcher's fine fried catfish ($12.95 with two sides). With a crisp cornmeal-and-flour crust and just-right spicing, it's worthy of repeat visits. And if you haven't figured it out already, the place is a real bargain.