Fresh from New York, I absorbed everything about New Orleans: the music, magic tricks, waterways, but mostly, and forever in my mind, the food.
Flavors danced like the jazz pouring from saxophones on Bourbon Street. The powdered beignets at Cafe Du Monde, Po’ Boys, jambalaya and — best of all, the seafood — seared into memory, reminding me to someday return for more.
Life changed, and I never did go back. Those memories, however, recently returned like the sea, softly and then all at once, while visiting the Louisiana Cookery.
Owners Mark and Amy Powlenko opened the tiny establishment, located at 1238 Walden Ave., in November. The business began as a food truck in 2014. After seeing success, they opened the brick and mortar spot.
A large, smiling crustacean on the sign indicated we had arrived. We shuffled in, stamping our boots from the snow, relieved to escape the ice-slicked roads. We took in the mural of the French Quarter on the left and on the right, a menu harboring alligator, crawfish, cornbread and sweet tea.
With steam rising from the cooking, and the Powlenkos fielding our questions with unending grace, we felt something wonderful and warm bubbling up. It could only be one thing, the South.
We ordered a sampling: shrimp and grits ($9.95), fried shrimp ($3.95), crawfish étouffée ($9.95), jambalaya ($5.95), gumbo ($4.95), alligator ($5.95), cornbread ($1) and sweet tea ($1.95).
Mark chatted with us as he cooked, telling us about how he’s lived all over the states and how his wife is from South Carolina.
“It’s what we love to do,” he said, stirring our sweet tea. “It’s a fun way to make a living.”
He set the dishes down one by one, and we dug in, first with the grits.
Holy deliciousness. I didn’t know grits could be not just this good, but this was amazing. Turns out I’d just had bad grits all my life. These were held in creamy suspension, pungent with buttery flavor, topped with bits of bacon and scallions and expertly cooked shrimp. Next came the jambalaya, which rivaled the best I’d ever had.
The Louisiana Cookery deals mostly in takeout, and customers came and went throughout our meal, picking up food at lunchtime. Even so, it would benefit from being slightly larger. Only two tables made the quarters a little tight. Additionally, there is no bathroom, an inconvenience that could range from mild to major, depending if you have children in tow.
The standout dish for us was the crawfish etouffee — crawfish tails and vegetables in a roux over rice. The flavors were deep and layered with a bit of heat, savory and satisfying over rice. The gumbo was tasty, but not our favorite. The alligator was chewy and, not surprisingly, fishy-tasting.
“A lot of people are pleasantly surprised,” said Mark of the gator. Unfortunately, we weren’t. It would have benefited from a dunk in the deep fryer.
The cornbread came as a generous slab, big enough to share. It was moist and not overly sweet. The tea was freshly made, a refreshing complement to our meal.
We finished with one of the specials, a last-minute decision to try crawfish bread ($5). It was tangy and creamy, and we didn’t regret it.
Mark and Amy captured Cajun-style cooking, and from their tiny spot on Walden Avenue, they’re releasing its magic. Given the season, we winter-weary northerners could all use a little, or a lot, of the south.
1238 Walden Ave. (908-7283)
Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Closed Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.
Parking: Only a few spots available.
Gluten-free options: Most of the menu is gluten-free.