December 2, 2005
taste of the Big Easy
New Orleans native Kevin Burns came to Kansas City in 1995 to apply his degree in criminal justice as an investigator for the water department. He then went to manage surveillance for Harrah's Casino. A sensible career path that sure doesn't explain how he and wife Gloria opened LaCroix's Creole Bistro, 4019 Pennsylvania, in January ‘04.
"I've been cooking all my life," he told me over the phone, "That's what people do in New Orleans. They cook and they eat."
Burns went on to explain that they'd sold homemade candy and cookies in the River Market for years. They also had a catering company before he saw a want ad for space recently vacated by a deli.
"I was looking for a business opportunity," he said, "and when I saw this place, I thought it was just what I was looking for."
In a previous incarnation, the white cinder block building had been a service garage for a moving and storage company. Windows have replaced the garage door. Green and cream-color walls surrounds fast-food furniture with masks, beads and posters hang next to the soft-drink machine. The 24-seat dining room with tables for sixteen on the patio wouldn't have such a busy, homey and cozy feel to it if it had been designed for a movie set. Zydeco and jazz from the sound system heighten the "les bon temps rouler" atmosphere. The entire restaurant could have been plucked from a New Orleans side street and plopped down in Westport.
"Gumbo, Jambalaya, red beans, Shrimp Etoufee`! I want all of it!" my friend Karen exclaimed as she read the menu out loud.
Also included were fried catfish, shrimp, crawfish and alligator dinners (from $10.99 to $13.99). Other entrees on the menu were Shrimp Creole with Beef Sausage ($11.99), Blackened Catfish ($11.99) and Seafood & Angel Hair Pasta ($11.99).
Creole Bistro claims the first three as signature dishes and offers them as lunch specials for $5.49 along with an organic spring green salad dressed with packages of Newman's Own dressing and bread. Ala Carte servings cost $7.25 for large and $3.75 for small and red beans, $6.50 and $3.50. They also do a unique Spicy Chili ($3.99), which Brian, my dog groomer friend, thought carried more fire than any other dish. I liked its savory aspect compared to tangier southwestern versions.
I missed the red beans but tasted the other two. While Brian thought them tame for his taste buds, Karen, and accountant Jackie and I thought they packed enough heat to accentuate the other spices and ingredients. And they're all there, the onions, green pepper, celery, okra and a mélange of seafood in the gumbo, while the jambalaya had shrimp, sausage and chicken baked over rice. Both seasoned with the sassafras-flavored file`. Burn's preparation impressed me. He'd cooked them long enough for the flavors to blend but not so long they lost their individual character.
Even more impressive were a couple of dishes I'd never eaten. Alligator & Andouille Piquante ($14.99) combines the chicken-textured gator with the spicy Louisiana sausage under Etoufee` sauce with tomatoes and mushrooms added. Served over rice, it sent my taste buds into overdrive as they tried to identify all the different flavors in each bite.
Tucked in a corner of the menu there's a heading called "Specialty Dish". My midwestern roots might be showing but I'd never encountered such an obvious combination of two very southern ingredients before. Burns credits his sister-in-law with the creation of Robin's Crawfish Corn Bread ($4.99, $7.99 with Etoufee` sauce). It's a fun combination — bits of plump briny crawfish inside the sweet, gritty corn bread, with pieces of the "mud puppies" piled on top. I had it with the sauce, which heightens the flavor more. When combined with a bowl of the chili, the soap bar-sized slab proved a very filling meal.
When Jackie and Brian squeamishly declined to taste the dish, Karen said, "What's the matter? They're just like little lobsters."
I tried the Fried Catfish Plate ($10.99) at lunch on a sunny afternoon. Served with a salad, yams and a cornbread muffin, the thick filet proved Burns knows his way around a deep fryer, too. The crunchy golden crust and moist flaky fish indicated he knows the importance of using clean, properly heated oil. The meal left me too full for dessert.
Speaking of filling, the desserts certainly qualify, although one proved the only disappointment in three visits. There ought to be a speed warning with the bread pudding ($3.99). The Burns' version has a consistency akin to baked French toast, the custard merely inflating the bread to sponge up the rum sauce — a caramel-colored concoction with a spicy kick. It has to be eaten slowly.
My wife Emily enjoyed the Cake of the Day ($2.25), a thick slice of light yellow cake slathered with a dark chocolate frosting. I didn't fare as well with a piece of sweet potato cheesecake that had been sitting too long and had only a hint of sweet potato flavor in the dry filling. As I said though, that was my only disappointment in three visits.
Gloria Burns takes orders behind the counter and serves the food. Although she told me on the phone she was shy, in person she's every customer's best friend — her southern hospitality as sweet and spicy as the rum sauce. No matter how busy, she seemed to give each customer all the attention necessary.
After a wait on a busy Saturday night, we got seated and Brian suggested, "They need a bigger place." Having been there once before, I disagreed. I thought the quality would suffer. It's just right for what Burns told me they did when he lived in New Orleans. He said, "They cook and they eat."
Well, as long as he keeps cooking, I'll be more than happy to do the eating.
Mike Taylor can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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