My Northern-raised palate admittedly isn’t very familiar with New Orleans food and drink, so I was excited to check out The Cajun Experience when it opened recently on 18th Street NW. I made it there last week, on a blustery night when I felt a cold coming on, so I was in the perfect mood for warming comfort food.
I started with a traditional Hurricane cocktail (I found mine cloyingly sweet and couldn’t finish it). Next I shared the crawfish mac & cheese — which you can already tell is becoming their most popular dish — and hushpuppies with my friend. This was followed by an appetizer-sized portion of the red beans and andouille sausage as we wanted to save room for beignets for dessert.
As it turns out, the appetizer portions were a good call because portion sizes are HUGE and I ended up taking leftovers home. The food was very filling, though a bit under-seasoned: my red beans dish could have been more flavorful, and my friend noted that the shrimp in her seafood gumbo was overcooked and mushy. The much-hyped crawfish mac & cheese — a menu standout of creamy mac and cheese, flecked with large chunks of crawfish and covered in a layer of broiled cheese — came out unevenly warm.
The hushpuppies were the highlight of our meal, great on their own and even better dunked in the spicy mayo that accompanied them. The bright, sunny dining room is definitely a plus, and I liked the restaurant’s homey casual atmosphere and friendly staff. Once the kitchen works out some brand-new-restuarant kinks, I think I’ll go back for real Mardi Gras festivities and try one of the many Po’Boy sandwiches on the menu.
Where Am I Going? 1825 18th Street NW (between Swann and T Streets)
When Am I Going? Monday through Thursday, 11 am to 11 pm; Friday and Saturday, 11 am to midnight; and Sunday, 10:30 am to 11 pm.
What You’ll be Eating: Cajun classics, including 10-plus kinds of Po’Boys on Leidenheimer bread imported from New Orleans, crawfish étouffée, red beans and sausage, jambalaya and gumbo. The full bar and beer selection is extensive, including a lineup of Abita varieties. You’d be remiss to skip dessert, which includes traditional beignets, bread pudding and pecan pie.
Paycheck Pain: Appetizers run between $4 and $10; dinner entrees ranging between $11 and $25. Lunch entrées are less expensive ($11 to $15 range), though the best deal on the menu may be the lunch special, which includes a choice of Po’Boy (choose between blackened or fried shrimp, catfish, chicken, crawfish, sausage, veggie and oysters) plus beignets for $13.
Say What? The bright yellow and brick-walled restaurant is divided into a dining room and bar area. The dining room filled up by 7 pm and was comfortably loud, but still enjoyable for conversation.The tables are a bit too close together though, so while we were able to spy on other diners’ meals and catch bits of their conversations, we had to stand up to let others pass.
Happy Hour: Runs from 11 am (!) to 7 pm daily…$5 beers, rails, and $5.50 special cocktails like the signature NOLA classic, a Hurricane (still too soon for a Katrina joke?).