By Amy L. Schubert Food Writer Published Nov 16, 2006 at 5:34 AM Photography: Eron Laber
Bayou Cajun Restaurant and Lounge, 2060 N. Humboldt Blvd., is Milwaukee’s latest attempt to create true Cajun cuisine, at the hands of Robert (also of Cush) and William Jenkins.

When most people think Cajun food, they think of bold, spicy, and brilliant flavors, seafood, jerk, spices and rubs, and of course, gumbo, jambalaya, and étoufée. Aside from some items at Crawdaddy’s and seasonal fare at Shaker’s, there are few places in Milwaukee where one can sample good Cajun cuisine.

A misconception of Cajun cuisine is that all Cajun food is hot and spicy; instead, the dishes are traditionally hearty, and while they should carry a kick of spice, this flavoring should seek a meld of seasonings that provide diners with a peppery palate, rather than a burning hot mouth.

These days, more people equate Cajun cooking with Paul Prudhomme and his famous collection of Cajun spices than we do with French rouxs or fried okra.

In part, I think it is because the cuisine itself is not an easy one to perfect. Cajun cuisine evolved from exiled Acadians back in the mid 1700s settling into Louisiana and bringing with them a cuisine based in corn, rice, potatoes, okra and wild game. It was influenced then by immigrants of French, Spanish and German descent, creating a melting pot of flavors and culinary combinations that are held together by Cajun cooking’s holy trinity of bell pepper, onion and celery.

Recent visits to the Bayou brought us into a beautiful, bold space, with what will be, undoubtedly, one of Milwaukee’s hottest summer patios. But what Bayou exudes in ambience and décor, it lacks in its food and customer service.

We found the appetizer menu unappealing for the most part, which is unfortunate, because the space at Bayou lends itself well to cocktails and light appetizers. Popcorn crawfish tails ($6) were deep fried versions of what appeared to be the same pre-shelled crayfish meat we would find in other dishes here, and had little if no flavor; in fact my dining companion remarked that they tasted like air.

Fried plantains and guacamole ($6) came in a sloppy presentation with unseasoned plantain chips randomly sticking out of the below average guacamole. Sweet potato shrimp chips ($6) defined the mark of Bayou that we would see throughout everything else we tried at this restaurant: the dishes, while inventive, combined flavors and ingredients that had no harmony or culinary complement whatsoever.

A lunch portion of sweet potato pie ($11) delivered a good version of sweet potato pie that was paired with maque choux (a spicy corn dish), mixed grilled vegetables, wild mushrooms, and bitter greens. It was a strange compilation and the maque choux lacked flavor.

A mixed grill from Bayou’s smoker ($21) was better, with brisket, andouille sausage, a chicken breast, and above average red beans and rice, but it also came with a corn bread loaf that arrived with whole kernels of corn in it for a disturbing texture and bland flavor. Jambalaya ($21) was dull, the shrimp within did not look nor taste fresh, the crayfish were the same pre-shelled pieces, and the rice was overcooked.

A special of pecan-encrusted trout ($19) smothered in nantua sauce (cream and crayfish butter garnished with crayfish meat) was such a textural stretch that I was unable to enjoy it. The fish was cooked to a mushy consistency and the nantua sauce was chunky instead of creamy, featuring more of the crayfish pieces. The mushiness came in direct contrast to the sharp snap of the pecan crust, and I found it most unpleasant.

However, the mashed potatoes that accompanied the fish were a delight, creamy and made with lots of butter and properly seasoned.

Bayou is new, so we will need to watch how the growing pains of a new restaurant allow them to shake out. But even if I do not go back for the food, I look forward to drinking a mango mojito ($6) or a sazerac ($11) on its dazzling river patio.

Amy L. Schubert is a 15-year veteran of the hospitality industry and has worked in every aspect of bar and restaurant operations. A graduate of Marquette University (B.A.-Writing Intensive English, 1997) and UW-Milwaukee (M.A.-Rhetoric, Composition, and Professional Writing, 2001), Amy still occasionally moonlights as a guest bartender and she mixes a mean martini.

The restaurant business seems to be in Amy’s blood, and she prides herself in researching and experimenting with culinary combinations and cooking techniques in her own kitchen as well as in friends’ restaurants. Both she and her husband, Scott, are avid cooks and “wine heads,” and love to entertain friends, family and neighbors as frequently as possible.

Amy and Scott live with their boys, Alex and Nick, in Bay View, where they are all very active in the community. Amy finds great pleasure in sharing her knowledge and passions for food and writing in her contributions to