By Amy L. Carlson   Published May 23, 2005 at 5:42 AM Photography: Eron Laber

{image1}Barataria Bay, the fortress famed pirate Jean Lafitte named after the island in Cervantes' "Don Quixote," was a legendary bastion through which no one could enter or exit the Mississippi River without passing one of the three islands, all inhabited by Lafitte's bandits.

Lafitte and his brigands regulated the cargo that came and went from the city of New Orleans, in essence helping to shape the lifestyle and culture of the Cajuns and Creoles who inhabited the area during the early 1800s.

To Milwaukeeans, Barataria will soon take on a similar role in defining how we view Cajun cuisine, if first time restaurant owners Charles White and his partner, who simply goes by the Madonna-like moniker, Dante, have their way.

The duo, which plans to open the 75-seat Cajun, Creole and seafood fusion eatery at 2242 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., sometime in mid-summer, touts 35 years combined restaurant experience. White did stints in such Milwaukee favorites as Jack Pandl's, Barossa, Nanakusa, Trocadero and Coquette Café, while Dante fed hungry Cajuns in Louisiana.

White and Dante are financing Barataria themselves and are doing most of the construction, including building an actual dock inside the space for people who are waiting for their tables. Impervious to Milwaukee's ever-changing restaurant scene, White asserts there are two main reasons why restaurants fail:

1) Too many people that have money to invest think they can just open a restaurant without any experience, and

2) ) Restaurateurs spend too much money on their establishments instead of just serving quality food and drinks.

White, who currently moonlights as a bartender at Frank's Power Plant while he and Dante remodel the soon-to-be Barataria space -- formerly part of SouthEast Liquor -- notes that little or no advertising will be necessary for their grand opening.

"After all," he notes, "I'm Charles White. Chefs have egos; so what?" and smilingly serves one of his bar patrons. White plans to get his feet wet managing the restaurant side of the business with some insight from his wife, the manager at Trocadero.

The restaurant will offer entrees in the $8-$10 range, with no entrees exceeding an $18 price cap. "For the working man," White says, "I'm a working man, too, and I want working people to be able to come and enjoy my food at prices they can afford."

White already has brainstormed three specialty drinks for Barataria, including an oyster shot.

"People in Milwaukee don't really know what an oyster shot is. They think it's all in the Tabasco sauce. We're going to offer a real oyster shot, with vodka, sake, ginger and soy in a cordial glass with a fresh oyster in it."

But, he stresses, the bar is for restaurant customers, and Barataria will close at midnight. The focus will be on the Cajun and Creole food, which White emphasizes is not all spicy, and not all shrimp, crawfish and alligator.

"Dante's lived in Louisiana for 18 years," White said, "He's been cooking real Cajun for real Cajun folks. We want to create a restaurant where we serve food a Cajun would serve at home. Not like Crawdaddy's. You know what I think of Crawdaddy's? Crawdaddy's is what Northerners think of as Cajun Food. (Barataria) is going to be like nothing anyone's ever seen in Milwaukee."