From the Bayou’s menu is resurrected, plus 4 places for Mardi Gras eats this month
Bayou eats in Tacoma always have been elusive, but it’s out there if you know where to look. Let me help you with that. Here are restaurants and bakeries, from Tacoma to Puyallup, with Louisiana eats and/or Mardi Gras parties/menus. I’m giving you plenty of warning. For your calendar: Fat Tuesday is February 25 this year.
A EURO PUB WITH A MARDI GRAS PARTY? WHAT?
A European-style pub with shepherd’s pie, bangers and mash and a killer whisky/whiskey list does seem like the weirdest place for a Mardi Gras themed menu, doesn’t it? But then you have to consider the chef of Doyle’s Public House. Louisiana-born Ben Marcus is Cajun restaurant royalty around here.
Ben’s brother Matt was business partners with Kevin Roy at From the Bayou, the legendary and long-gone Cajun restaurant the duo operated in Parkland by Pacific Lutheran University from 1998 until 2007 when they sold it. Ben Marcus worked in the From the Bayou kitchen. People still talk about the food because it was the kind of restaurant you drove 100 miles to visit. From the Bayou might be long gone, but Ben Marcus carries on his family’s recipes every February. He debuted the Mardi Gras menu Friday (January 31) at Doyle’s Public House, in Tacoma’s St. Helens neighborhood, and it will continue through Fat Tuesday on February 25.
Diners can find gumbo ($6.50 cup/$12 bowl), crawfish etouffee ($15.99), red beans and rice ($13), boiled shrimp po’ boy sandwich with pickled chow-chow ($14), a crawfish dip with crostini for dunking ($14) and more.
The family recipes originated from Opelousas in St. Landry Parish where the Marcus family is from. As Marcus describes it, “My gumbo recipe is also the original chicken and sausage gumbo we ran at The Bayou. One aspect that separates ours is I make the dark roux which gives the gumbo its robust flavor. Another key aspect is the andouille sausage. I am very particular about this, we use Paul Prudohmme’s who was from Opelousas like myself.”
My favorite is his crawfish etouffee, which as Marcus describes it, is an onion, pepper, mushroom cream-based red sauce “kissed with Cajun spices.” “Etouffee translated from French means smothered or suffocated. So an etouffee is a sauce that smothers the main ingredient. In this case, the jewel is crawfish. The slow cooking aspect is one of the reasons it is so good,” he told me a few years back when I bugged him for recipe details.
I know from experience that his red beans and rice also pack a wallop of heat and he makes it with a double punch of tasso ham and andouille. Make that a must order, in addition to the crawfish etouffee.
And here’s something exciting for From the Bayou fans. Marcus told me last week that he’s going to make the restaurant’s famous cornbread muffins this year, although they’re only going to be available on Fridays and Saturdays. “I’m doing the cornbread muffins for sure. Every year, whenever we talk to anybody, that’s literally the first thing they ask about – the cornbread muffins. We can’t really pull it off every night that we do the Mardi Gras menu because of the work they require, but we figure Fridays and Saturdays will be the perfect opportunity to do it. We’ll get those morsels of goodness out to everybody on those nights.” Marcus expects to have the muffins for dinner service on Fridays and Saturdays starting around 4 p.m. (although he will try and have them at lunch on those days, but he can’t make guarantees).
Marcus said last week that what he’s most excited for is the cocktails they’re introducing this year. The Doyle’s crew has been making a habit of coming up with themed cocktails. They research their drinks and debut them, competition style, at a crew meeting. The six cocktails on the Mardi Gras menu all are recipes from staffers. There’s a classic Sazerac ($9), a spin on a Hurricane ($9), a funky version of a daiquiri ($8) and a King Cake themed cocktail heavy on cream, vodka and Rumchata ($8).
Marcus designed two cocktails for the menu. One is called the Creole Creeper and is bourbon and gin fortified with a blend of sweet juices ($8). He predicts his Funk of New Orleans will go down well with spicy food. It’s a mix of punch and champagne ($8).
GET IT: Doyle’s Public House, 208 St. Helens Ave., Tacoma; 253-272-7468; doylespublichouse.com
MARDI GRAS PARTY, DONE IN STYLE
Bourbon Street Creole Kitchen & Bar in downtown Puyallup is Pierce County’s only Louisiana themed restaurant that stays in character all year round. The menu is grounded in bayou eating with gumbo, etouffee, jambalaya, po’ boys, beignets and all the usual Louisiana suspects represented.
The restaurant is from Mike de Alwis – who operates the restaurant with his sons.
Jehan de Alwis is the restaurant’s chef (and is currently training in London) and Mikey de Alwis is the barkeep. Together, they’ve created a restaurant with a visually interesting atmosphere that oozes New Orleans charm. In fact, Mike and Mikey are in New Orleans right now. “I am in New Orleans at the moment at the Roosevelt Hotel for my annual Mardi Gras shopping,” said de Alwis.
As usual, he has big plans for his Mardi Gras party.
“We will have a heated outdoor tent with Buck Shot, New Orleans style brass band.” That band, he said has 10 members, so expect a big, robust sound under the tent. He is still working on a special menu, but he knows it will include “red beans and rice, blackened pork belly and andouille sausage, jambalaya, seafood gumbo, pork cracklings, fried catfish and beignets.”
The Mardi Gras party with the band will be the nights of February 21, 22 and 25.
He added, “Mikey will do his magic in the bar with his Hurricanes, walnut old fashions, Sazeracs and some other New Orleans favorites. He, too, is in New Orleans with me.”
Whether dining during Mardi Gras season or not, Bourbon Street Creole Kitchen & Bar is the go-to destination for bayou eating. The standard menu includes gumbo, jambalaya, etouffee, catfish, po’ boy sandwiches, shrimp and grits. There’s also steaks and burgers with Louisiana spins.
GET IT: Bourbon Street Creole Kitchen & Bar, 401 S. Meridian, Puyallup; 253-604-4404. The Mardi Gras party nights with live music are February 21, 22 and 25.
WHERE DO I GET A KING CAKE FOR MARDI GRAS IN TACOMA?
Mardi Gras King Cakes traditionally have been impossible to find in locally owned Pierce County bakeries. Lucky us, there’s one fairly new bakery in Pierce County that makes handmade King Cakes and they are delicious.
Miguel Hernandez bakes a dazzling pecan-brown sugar King Cake at his South Tacoma bakery, Pasteles Finos Del Angel. His is a yeasted cake rolled up with pecans, butter, cinnamon and brown sugar. The bakery opened in 2018 and Hernandez debuted the King Cakes in 2019.
This year, he’s pricing his King Cakes at $35 for a cake that will feed 12. Hidden inside one of the slices is a mini baby, per Mardi Gras custom. Hernandez also is making King Cake style doughnuts, priced $2 each. You can even order online. Click on King Cake on the left side of the screen for the Mardi Gras menu.
GET IT: Pasteles Finos Del Angel, 5102 S. Washington St., Tacoma; 253-448-2649; https://www.pastelesfinosdelangel.com/
Lucky us, we have two seafood boil restaurants in Pierce County that will transport you straight to the bayou. Both offer crawfish. Do note that imported Louisiana crawfish is required, by our friends at the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, to be frozen before arrival in Washington state. That’s because live Louisiana crawfish are an invasive species and if they entered our waterways, they’d crowd out our native crawfish lickety split.
Louisiana style seafood boil restaurant Dragon’s Crawfish is in the middle of the Lincoln neighborhood. This low-tech restaurant is small, so busy nights can come with a wait.
Like most seafood boil places, diners order seafood by the pound and it’s boiled and served up in a giant bowl meant to be communally shared at your table. You use your hands and provided utensils to crack open and slurp up the goodness. Don’t forget to order extra French bread (it’s of the crusty variety, much like banh mi sandwich bread) to sop up chef-owner Minh Phan’s dynamite, but lethally spiced, garlic sauce. Phan does offer spicing options available below his epic “Dragon’s Breath,” sauce. Order carefully if you’re timid about spice.
Paper spread across the table allows you to peel and dump the shells without worrying about the mess. You’ll get plastic bibs, plenty of napkins and tools to help you crack open and pick through the seafood. This is a get-your-hands-dirty experience.
Corn on the cob, sausage and boiled potatoes can be ordered with your boil (ordering all three is called a “triple play”). It’s safe for kids. Beer and wine served. The hours can vary.
GET IT: Dragon’s Crawfish, 750 S. 38th St., Tacoma; 253-301-0020
Boiling Crawfish in South Hill is another destination for peel-and-eat seafood boil. The specialty here is crab and there’s usually snow, King and Dungeness (when in season). Here, you can order by the pound or in larger combinations, which makes this seafood boil a great destination for larger groups. They have triple the seating as Dragon’s Crawfish and tables that easily can fit a half dozen diners or more. If you hate getting your hands dirty, they offer plastic gloves to diners (you delicate flower, you).
This restaurant’s sauces aren’t as deeply flavored and garlic-heavy as the sauce at Dragon’s Crawfish, but they’re still tasty. You’ll get scissors with your seafood to make quick work of tearing into the shells. Boiling Crawfish also has a full cocktail menu in addition to beer and wine and the cocktail list is way above average for a South Hill restaurant. If it’s on the menu, get the Miss Saigon. It’s a hibiscus flavored concoction.
GET IT: Boiling Crawfish, 4301 S. Meridian, Puyallup; 253-256-7423; boilingcrawfishwa.com
ESSENCE LOUNGE IS OPEN
Essence Lounge is not a Louisiana-themed restaurant, but it does have a rare food not often found here – a mix of Southern soul food and Latin soul food. The restaurant and lounge opened in mid-January in Tacoma’s Sixth Avenue neighborhood. Read all about it here.