This month marks two years since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and several communities along the Gulf of Mexico. But just as the city has struggled to rebuild itself, local chefs and residents have also worked to preserve the culture and cuisine that make the Big Easy so unique. Celebrate the city's rebirth by feasting on its flavors, from muffalettas to po'boys to sugar-dusted beignets. Here are a few of our favorite Creole and Cajun spots that bring New Orleans to Chicago (note: there are plenty more places than Heaven on Seven).
Dixie Kitchen & Bait Shop (Hyde Park)
This South Side eatery oozes Southern hospitality, with one end of the L-shaped restaurant constructed like a Louisiana cottage, complete with corrugated steel roof, and painted tin-plate advertisements and outdated license plates dotting the walls. Snag a seat, order an iced tea and prepare to linger over a finger-licking meal. Highlights include crawfish and corn fritters, breaded oysters, fried catfish and gumbo made with shrimp, chicken and Andouille sausage. The crawfish etoufee, a thick, spicy, roux-based stew served over rice, is worth a visit to the restaurant in its own right.
The clientele at the Local Option is as varied as the bar's menu, and it's not uncommon to see an older couple diving into a bowl of seafood gumbo alongside University students downing brews. It's the po'boys here that really sing, with spicy, breaded shrimp (or catfish or oysters), provolone cheese, tomatoes and shredded lettuce piled inside crispy French bread that's been slathered with Creole mayo. Wash it all down with the bar's signature vodka lemonade.
Owner Mary Madison named her restaurant after the Cajun idiom meaning "a little something extra," and you'd be wise to wear pants with a little extra room in the waist before you head to this eatery, which has earned diehard fans across the city. Lagniappe (pronounced lan-yap) serves up the best of the bayou, including boudin (sausage stuffed with dirty rice), plump crawfish etouffee, red beans and rice, jambalaya and Cajun wings and waffles. A word to the antsy: check your impatience at the door. The blackboard sign announcing the specials also warns that everything is cooked to order, meaning a 15 minute wait on most dishes. But oh, the wait is worth it.
If you're looking for a standard morning drink, this coffee shop can hook you up, but where's the fun in that? Sink into a seat, gaze at the original folk art hanging on the walls, and take the time to smell the fresh flowers on each table. Beignets, pillowy square donuts piled high with powdered sugar, pair perfectly with the chicory-laced cafe au lait. If you're packing a bigger appetite, feast on a muffaletta, an enormous sandwich of provolone, salami, ham, capicola and olive salad tucked into Sicilian bread.
This relaxed neighborhood bar offers kicking Cajun comfort food and nightly drink specials—the perfect combination. Sidestep the standard pub grub of burgers and pizza and opt instead for po'boys, fried catfish and crab cake sandwiches or a platter of jambalaya and etouffe. Fried green tomatoes, toothsome, thin wheels dusted with corn meal, are the house specialty. Adding to the convivial feel are Mardi Gras masks and beads on the wall, tasty hurricane cocktails, live music on the weekends and karaoke on Thursdays.