A fortunate circumstance of my paid profession, is my proximity to Creole Kitchen. As much as I drool when hearing the mention of Chef Butcher’s Beignets, Étouffée, or other goodness, the hours and location on Mt. Vernon Ave., was just not convenient to my day-to-day travels in my previous work life. Now, I am a short five-minute drive away. This winter I have been getting lunch to go about once per week. I used the first three months of 2013 to study Creole Kitchen. These are my observations.
Let’s start with the location. As mentioned, it is off the beaten path. It my be mildly inconvenient to many food enthusiast’s outside of the neighborhood. The place is easy to miss buried in a newer strip mall in an old neighborhood. That is no problem for Chef Butcher, he has no problem getting customers through the door. He chose the location and the neighborhood to make a commitment to the community. Much like Franklinton, the King Lincoln District has been “up and coming” for a long time. Unfortunately the upward slope of that bell curve has been pretty flat, but Chef Butcher is a man of patience.
Now a segue at the pedigree of the place. Chef Butcher was born in Louisiana. He had has cooked and “chefed” extensively in many places. He had a much written about run at Michael Oliver’s in the 1990′s getting some press and attention as one of the few culinarians in Central Ohio that could do Cajun and creole right. Even though Chef Butcher is advanced in years, he ability to move a line has not slackened after years of blackening.
The place is small, simple and spartan. There is standing room for carry out orders. While there is 2 to 3 small two top tables, unless it is very slow and not crowded, you wont find anyone eating at them. For those that know to ask and visit at the right time and crowd volume, there is a “Chef’s Table” back in the kitchen area. A few select people (I did it once) can eat at a beaten wooden table that seats 2-4 depending on the collective girths of the party. The kitchen crew includes a family member or two and the service counter is always efficient and often friendly if it is not too busy.
Here is an inside tip. Call your order in. The phone will often get picked up. If it is busy, it may ring forever or you might get placed on hold and forgotten about. This is not a negative reflection on the staff, there are just so many orders once can take and actually be able to fill them. If you do happen to walk in and place a “live” order don’t fret, you will still be served. If orders are backed up and you have time to kill, might I suggest driving to the Angry Baker on Oak Street to get a dessert to go. The round trip to and from Angry Baker to Creole Kitchen, with a few moments to make a selection, can be done in as few of 19 minutes. There is one advantage of just dropping in to place your order. There are always five to six really good daily specials (see some examples below) like a meatloaf sandwich.
Now for the food. For whatever reason, the offerings at Creole Kitchen don’t photograph very well, so there will be little food porn. Take a moment to study the menu below and I’ll elaborate on some of the item you may want to try in a bit.
Everything I have sampled is great. It tastes of true Louisiana roux. On may dishes you will be given an opportunity to choose how spicy you would like it on a scale of 1-10. The scale is more spice than heat, but a 10 will not sear your tongue, but it will tame and clear your sinuses in quick order. My favorites include the Mac and Cheese, Crawfish Étouffée,, Chicken Andouille sausage Jambalaya, the french fries and a simple Po’ Boy. I have not had an opportunity to try breakfast. I have heard it is great and often crowded so that being the case I’ll leave that breakfast to Nick.
The Mac&Cheese is simple, plain pasta with a think but saucy mix of cheese. It often serves as a buffer to the heat of another dish. It will remind you of the best diner or cafeteria Mac&Cheese from your formative years. Sadly, as simple as this dish is, and as much as it is a staple of The US of A, I rarely find one I like.
What is it about the fries that makes them so good? They still have the skins on them. They are like fair fries but a bit denser and yet somehow soggier at the same time. The fries also serve as a heat buffer when needed. If you look in the bottom of our carry out bag, you will always see packets of hot sauce to douse your fries in, in case you feel you need the kick.
What makes Crawfish Etouffee and the other dishes so good? I’m not sure. It is in the sauce and the simplicity of the ingredients themselves. The whole is always greater than the parts at Creole Kitchen.
The Po’Boys are make better by their bulk – very large sandwiches for sure, but the clincher is the bread. It is toasted, lightly buttered and the slight crunch of the bread adds to the complete Po’ Boy experience and also keeps the sandwich from collapsing from the slightly wet fried proteins inside. I only have one bone to pick with the sandwiches. The Muffuletta on the menu does not meet my definition of the sandwich or my other eating experiences with them elsewhere. But, I’m not from Louisiana and Chef Butcher can run circles around me in any kitchen, school me up on a thing or three and probably whup my ass good too.
Here are a few more tidbit’s on the place. They make their own potato chips, served in a brown paper bag. These are a great choice to munch on if you think you will be waiting on your order for a while. You can also join the Creole Kitchen text club for a free bag of chips with your order. I will admit that I joined the club while I was placing my order the first time I tried the chips. It may not be a best practice but I was hungry and wanted to test the technology. The restaurant sells their own spice mix but I have yet to try it. If you do, let me know. They also support other local businesses including a cookie maker and a sweet tea company.
There is a lot more to like about Creole Kitchen but that should be enough to get you through the door. Creole Kitchen is too good and too cool to be forgotten but unless it is right in front of you, it can be an easy place to let fall by the wayside on your dining to do list.
1052-B Mt. Vernon Plaza
King Lincoln District (The KLD)
Monday to Thursday: 7 am to 7 pm
Friday: 7 am to 9 pm
Saturday: 7:30 am to 9 pm