Posted On: 07/01/2014
Evangeline's Bistro and Music House512 N. Euclid Ave.,
St. Louis, 314.367.3644, evangelinesstl.com
The 7-month-old Evangeline’s Bistro and Music House – instantly likeable and New Orleans-inspired – sits on the northern fringe of the Central West End in the same handsome building where Pierce-Arrow automobiles were once displayed. With a loud bandstand at the front of the dining room, the atmosphere can be boisterous, even overwhelming. It can also be a helluva lot of fun – one evening the celebratory spirit of birthday revelers was so fetching that other diners couldn’t help but join in. Another positive observation: Apart from the Goody Goody Diner, the clientele during my visits was the most racially diverse I’ve seen in a St. Louis restaurant recently.
On the patio, there is an air of New Orleans festivity with outside seating and street performers, including a dancer gyrating in slow motion with a hula hoop. Inside, diners can watch the action through gorgeous floor-to-ceiling, wraparound windows. Overall, the dining room is a tastefully appointed, inviting space.
Though it seems odd to serve your top appetizer gratis, the kitchen sends out two pieces of complimentary bruschetta, one topped with marinated feta – spicy and bright with Cajun seasonings and lemon – the other a muffuletta full of chunkier-than-normal, coarse-cut olives and carrots. There’s no barbecue shrimp on the menu, but the Tabasco butter shrimp carries considerable heat for the classic dish: seven big tail-on Gulf shrimp drenched in a piquant sauce of Tabasco, butter, garlic and shredded Parmesan. The heat was surprisingly gentle, and a squeeze or two from a lime on the side made it even more so. You’ll want to use the generous slices of grilled French bread for sopping up as much of that sauce as possible.
Sticklers for authenticity will either have to lighten up or save their taste buds for the Crescent City; the fact is, the line between Creole and Cajun styles has blurred over the years. Call it New Orleans-influenced cuisine or even Cre-jun, but Evangeline’s doesn’t overthink what’s genuine and what’s not. Case in point: cheese, lots of it. Of the 25 menu items (excluding salads and cheese bread), 10 listed Parmesan or mozzarella as an ingredient. That doesn’t even include the shredded Parmesan used to garnish several other dishes. The dairy-averse would be wise to inquire about the amount of cheese in their order.
That’s not to say it’s bad. The beans in the Famous Red Beans and Rice were cooked to the proper texture, the andouille was smoky, the house-cured steak cut thick and the two mounds of fragrant jasmine rice steamed just right. I don’t know if it was replacing the ham with steak, adding red wine or dialing down the heat that made the dish “famous,” but it was an innovative – and very good – spin on an old standard. Other entrees included three étouffées (crawfish, shrimp, blue crab), gumbo, jambalaya, baked chicken, seared duck breast and blackened red snapper.
The blue crab étouffée had the rich texture of butter and cream, and included the bell pepper, celery and onion “holy trinity” – all nearly overpowering the headliner. Accenting the dish was a crab leg, which would have been a good idea but for its anorexic size and lack of a cracking utensil to extract whatever miniscule amount of meat lay inside. However, the kitchen scored big with its blackened red snapper filet by keeping the warm spices balanced, being judicious with the meunière sauce and understanding that “blackened” doesn’t mean burnt and bitter.
The cooks also know that duck breast should be served medium-rare, a practice they back up by stating so right on the menu. The four medallions of juicy, caramelized breast in a balsamic reduction and topped with orange zest were both savory and tart. Thick-cut rounds of roasted potatoes and spinach, sauteed with garlic and ginger, rounded out the dish.
There were po’boys, of course, and they were substantial. The fried oyster version was so loaded down – plump Gulf Coast oysters, red Cajun gravy, chopped romaine lettuce, sliced Creole tomato and, yes, shredded Parmesan – that closing it would have been futile. This was a knife-and-fork sandwich. Even with the sauce and shaggy, crunchy breading, the oysters’ briny-fresh flavor and tender texture came through with each bite. All sandwiches come with a choice of sides and a cherry-infused pickle.
Abita Amber beer went well with that po’boy, but there was a good selection of local brews on tap also. (Sadly, Dixie beer, a New Orleans mainstay, isn’t available.) Hurricanes were made fresh with juice instead of syrupy-sweet nonsense. For dessert, Evangeline’s serves up favorites like bananas Foster and adapts cherries jubilee by using strawberries. Both were prepared in the kitchen but can be made tableside upon request. Beignets are served at Sunday brunch, and the bourbon pecan pie was a pleaser: not too sweet with a hint of booze, a flaky crust and crunchy nuts. It had me at first bite.
During all visits, service was engaged and friendly, though there were long lags between appetizers and entrees. Others must have experienced similar timing problems, evidenced by the general manager holding several table conversations with diners, none of whom were smiling.
Much like NOLA itself, Evangeline’s makes no bones about what it is: a lively, convivial spot with good food made from scratch and with earnest intent – even if there is a lot of cheese.
Don’t Miss Dishes
Oyster po’boy, blackened red snapper, Tabasco butter shrimp
Raucous on weekends (NOLA style), quiet on weeknights, contemporary bistro décor that dodges Big Easy kitsch
$10 to $24
512 N. Euclid Ave.,
St. Louis, 314.367.3644, evangelinesstl.com
Daily – 11 a.m. to 1 a.m., kitchen open until midnight
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