First, a disclaimer: I have never been to New Orleans. But this hasn't stopped me from developing a far-away love for the food, culture and history of this unique American city. So I was thrilled when Bourbon Street Bend, the New Orleans-style eatery, opened this summer in the old Staccato location on Minnesota Ave.
I wasn't the only one. Bourbon Street Bend has been packed since day one. The popularity can be attributed not just to Bendites' unbridled love of all new restaurants - good or not - but also to the hearty dishes, which feature seafood and Southern-style cooking, as well as a family-friendly price point.
The buzz on this restaurant has been nearly deafening, with rants and raves blowing up the Internet and social circles. Whatever you've heard, the bottom line is this venture from Chef Gavin McMichael of the Blacksmith Restaurant is a much more affordable opportunity to enjoy McMichael's thoughtfully envisioned food.
Though I was chomping at the bit to try Bourbon Street, I waited until the eatery had a chance to iron out its new-restaurant kinks before stopping by for both lunch and dinner last week.
For lunch, Bourbon Street features New Orleans favorites like jambalaya, éttouffée (a dark stew served with rice) and gumbo. We ordered a cup of gumbo ($4.25), an appetizer of fried okra ($6.95) and the Shrimp Po' Boy Express Lunch ($9.95). More of a soup than a stew, Bourbon Street's gumbo, which that day was Chicken Ya Ya, consisted of chicken, a variety of traditional vegetables and rice in a savory, oily broth. It was delicious and would be perfect as a winter warmer after a day on the slopes. The fried okra was served piping hot, the zucchini-like vegetable breaded and fried to the perfect texture and served with "horsey ranch."
The Express Lunch, which included a half Po' Boy sandwich, small green salad, hush puppies and dessert, was served on ceramic TV dinner-style trays. My only complaint was that the sandwich was too big to eat - I had to pick it apart with a knife and fork. But the sandwich, salad, addicting hush puppies and peach cobbler were more than enough to satiate any appetite.
I was impressed with the lunch service and pace of my meal. But when I returned for dinner, I found the restaurant to be much more hectic. We were seated outside on the lovely patio and assured our server would be right with us; however, it took over thirty minutes before a server even took our drink order. The staff was all incredibly friendly and well trained, but I couldn't help but think they were spread a bit thin.
We started off with some classic cocktails - a Mint Julep, Cherries Jubilee and Singapore Sling. I am not a sweet cocktail person and even my friend, who adds sugar to her soda on occasion, felt the cocktails were overly sweet.
Luckily, the food made up for the drinks. For dinner, my party started with the artichoke crawfish dip ($9.95) and bacon barbeque oysters ($9.95). Both were excellent. The dip was creamy and stuffed with artichokes and crawfish. The oysters were lightly cooked and topped with bacon and a spicy barbeque sauce. I advise McMichael to guard the recipe with his life, because if I find out how to make this myself I may never leave the house again.
For dinner, we ordered the crawfish éttouffée and the jambalaya in "Who 'Dat Spicy" (as opposed to traditionally spicy). The éttouffée was fine, but I was much more enthralled with the jambalaya. "Who 'Dat Spicy" is pretty damn spicy, but it's the kind of spice where you back off for a second, start sweating a bit, then become addicted and have to eat it all.
McMichael has big shoes to fill, as Staccato was a favorite among many Bendites. His plan was to provide a seafood restaurant that was family friendly - something McMichael says is hard to come by in downtown Bend. Having spent much of his childhood visiting his grandparents outside New Orleans, McMichael has many fond memories of the Big Easy and its rich, flavorful food.
McMichael also added an affordable breakfast menu, which offers filling classics like waffles, hash and benedicts.
While I applaud Bourbon Street for providing much-needed diversity to Bend's dining scene, they still have a few kinks to work out, especially with respect to dinner service. But with a couple more tweaks, Bourbon Street could set the standard for Creole cuisine in Bend.
McMichael notes that Bourbon Street is a work in progress, but is happy that his concept has been a hit in Bend. "I think in a very short time we'll have great authenticity," he says. "In New Orleans, you can always add a little bit more love."
Bourbon Street Bend
5 NW Minnesota Ave. Suite 100. 541-323-2833, bourbonstreetbend.com