Copyright © 2000. All Rights Reserved
by Beth Weisberg
Tourists. Love em or hate em, they must be fed. Calgary can offer steak rounded out with prairie oysters and washed down with a redeye, but old New Orleans can russle up a much bigger spread of crawfish, jambalaya and ribs. You can fork out for the gas for a drive south, or you can start sampling right here in Cowtown at N'awlins Creole & Cajun Bar & Grill on 11th Avenue S.W.
N'awlins New Orleans as pronounced in the Big Easy is a name that brings on a heap of Mardi Gras images and a whole blender's worth of expectations of rolling good times. But because we showed up on a weekday night, my friend and I weren't really expecting a wild party.
Turns out you can pick your pace N'awlins is a sprawling spread of a place. The non-smoking northwest corner is a funky butter-yellow salon filled with a dozen tables and snug booths for two. Then there's the bar area, wide open to accommodate a crowd. A cozier dogleg tucks back to the entrance. Besides the large wraparound deck, the floor-to-ceiling south-facing windows are the most appealing feature.
In a bar-food mood, we started with the appetizer platter ($14.99). There's a smattering of sausage chunks in a barbecue sauce that tasted like reduced Bulls Eye. The curly fries anchoring the platter's centre were tasty and familiar, like Arby's.
The mysterious large mound of what seemed to be various-sized chicken wings was explained by our waitress. "Those are alligator," she said. Its hard to use the cliché "tastes like chicken" when that's what we thought we were eating. I tried to get a sense of a different flavour, but it's so elusive it could be marked down to a difference in batter or cooking temperature.
There are also fried shrimp, some very fresh crisp celery, carrots and cucumbers with a creamy dip, and some lightly cornmeal-crusted bites of fish. Other than a container of hot sauce dip, though, there's no heat on the plate.
Anticipating leftovers for the next day, we ordered crawfish etouffe ($12.99) and a rack of ribs ($14.99). The etouffe was nicely balanced: not so spicy as to become overwhelming, but not so bland as to need more seasoning. A tasty gravy with small stewed chunks of green pepper, carrot, celery and tiny crawfish tops a bowl of rice. Two slices of garlic toast for soaking up gravy come on the side. The etouffe is a large portion, but $12.99 is a mite pricey for rice and gravy.
The pork ribs were fine cooked almost to the point where the meat falls off the bone. The sauce, likely the same as on the sausage, was still a nice balance of sweet and smoky. A side of lifeless green peas was kicked up by the addition of fresh carrots, celery and red peppers. There is also a side of dirty rice, and a creamy potato salad perked up with scallions, radishes and shreds of carrot.
While the food at N'awlins is good, there's nothing to spin your head around. The biggest stumbling block was temperature. The chicken and fries on the appetizer platter were hot; the sausage, shrimp and fish seemed warmed over; the toast with our entrées was flabby and warm; and the fries we tried at another visit were limp and oily either the frying temperature is off or they're sitting too long before they join the rest of the plate. And speaking of temperature, chili-heads like myself may end up craving a little more spice.
The combination of the deck, the open atmosphere inside and the after-work specials could lure me back to N'awlins (550 - 11 Ave. S.W., phone 294-9074). The restaurant is wheelchair accessible.
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