Story by Elise CardenasPhotos by Theresa Callaway
A blue neon “open” sign in the shape of Louisiana hangs in the window of Evangeline Café, representing what customers can find at the South Austin restaurant. Although the address says Brodie Lane, the Louisiana pride inside makes you wonder if you were secretly dropped off in the French Quarter.
The café, which opened in 2003, serves “authentic Cajun cuisine derived from family recipes,” Curtis Clarke, owner of the restaurant, says. As for the name of the restaurant, it comes from an epic written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1847. “Evangeline is the name of the poem, and she is also the heroine of the story, thus becoming the heroine of the Cajun culture in Louisiana and Nova Scotia,” Clarke says.
When I walk inside the café, my eyes take a few seconds to adjust. Upon first glance, it feels like the “I Spy” books of my childhood came to life for a Louisiana-Austin collaboration. Portraits and memorabilia fill the walls and ceiling of the restaurant. The friendly staff seats me at a table covered in Abita bottle caps, a brewing company headquartered outside of New Orleans. After glancing over the variety of Cajun options on the menu, my eyes divert back to the walls.
The Louisiana décor ranges from purple and gold Mardi Gras beads hanging from the ceiling tiles to a 2009 LSU baseball championship banner. More memorabilia like a Ragin’ Cajuns’ hockey jersey and a giant green sign reading “LAKE CHARLES” find their respective place in the restaurant. Jazzy upbeat southern rock, a staple of Louisiana’s music culture, plays in the background.
On the tabletops, live music schedules for the month sit right next to the salt, pepper and, of course, Tabasco sauce. The Evangeline Café hosts live music in their restaurant “almost every evening,” according to their website. Late night music nights begin every Wednesday and Friday from 10 p.m. to midnight.
“In the beginning, I felt the room was too small for live music. Having inadvertently made myself a prisoner to the room, I couldn't go out anymore, and musicians came here,” Clarke says.
The passion of the décor rivals the flavor of the food. For lunch, I order a fried catfish po’boy, a basic request from a menu that offers bite-size fried alligator, frog legs, and several variations of gumbo. The po’boy arrives with fried catfish on a bed of lettuce, tomato and pickles between soft fresh baked French bread. Drizzled on the fish, the Evangeline sauce adds a special twist of flavor to the po’boy. A breading coats the catfish and gives the fish a light, airy taste.
When I leave the restaurant I am satisfied with my meal and the service, but, more importantly, I’m glad that a piece of Louisiana found a home in Austin.