A2 Cajun Café
Where: 406 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia, 360.915.9492
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Wednesday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Thursday-Saturday
Cuisine: Cajun Creole - jambalaya, gumbo, seafood po'boys, frog legs, red beans and rice, etouffee, fried green tomatoes, and hush puppies
Scene: Laid-back, funky, community seating, kids welcome
Drinkies: Beer and wine, house made lemonade, ice tea, and sweet tea, canned soda, Olympia Coffee Roasters organic/fair trade coffee
ANNOUNCER: The state's capital is home to a cornucopia of interesting restaurants and cuisine; Thai, French, South American, Indian, Mexican, Greek, home-style American, and Italian are just a start. Last fall saw the addition of Cajun Creole to that list with the opening of A2 Cajun Café. The space that formerly held the Clubside Café has been jazzed up with a painted mural of parading musicians and dancers that evoke thoughts of Mardi Gras. Owners Billy Roberson and Lisa Smith, who also co-own Cicada Restaurant and Lounge up the street, offer a menu of loosely traditional Cajun dishes concocted from recipes that obviously are not shy on herbs and spices - or afraid of making it hot. Shared seating at long picnic tables and benches mean rubbing elbows when the café is busy.
JAKE: Hey, did you notice the name of the place? It's a play on words for etouffee, the dish similar to gumbo. Clever. I also liked the relaxed vibe. With it being just the two of us, I was glad for the option of sitting at the diner counter versus a picnic table - and immediately felt at ease as we plunked down on barstools. The air smelled spicy and heavy and made me hungrier than I was before arriving.
JASON: You know what put me at ease? When you stopped trying to taste the air with your nostrils.
The friendly woman employee answered questions easily and suggested we start with the fried green tomatoes. The tasty treats were a good call - not too bitter or soggy. They arrived eight to an order - twice the size of half-dollar coins.
French derived orange remoulade held plentiful whole bay shrimp. I would eat cardboard if served with A2's tangy remoulade. I wanted to lick the plate.
JAKE: Plate licker.
I really liked the fried green tomatoes, too - and for once it wasn't a bad thing for light breading to be slightly cornmeal grainy.
Next up, a signature dish of jambalaya. Light orange in hue, the green onion garnish provided a complementary color contrast. Though flavorful, the dish bordered on too hot due to an overpowering taste of pepper. It was cloying. The tart and sweet house made lemonade provided delicious relief.
JASON: I thought the lemonade tasted like a watery vodka sour with a shot of simple syrup. I guess I wanted a cocktail instead of beer or wine - no liquor license at A2.
Though loaded with shrimp, chunky sausage, small bits of carrot, tomatoes, celery, and chicken pieces, I agree that the meaty jambalaya was too peppery. The rice was heartier than expected, and we learned A2 uses arborio, the Italian risotto rice. To be clear, it's not too spicy, but too peppery. Possibly someone went crazy with the white pepper? Is a recipe tweak in order?
JAKE: Pan-fried, braised pork chops were boneless and tender but slightly dry. Since it was sitting in a pool of reddish-orange sauce, it made it easy to forgive this. I cut off pieces and drug them around until they were totally coated. Carrot and tomato had been cooked down like you would do with a roast in a Crock-Pot. That's how I want them - super soft.
Unforgivable were the crunchy grits. They needed more time in the pan with the lid on to get nice and soft. Sigh. How does this happen?
JASON: I don't have the answers, my man.
Red beans and rice were riddled with ham hocks and pieces of andouille sausage. Beans were fully cooked - thank the man in the sky - as was the scoop of white rice plopped in the middle of the saucy beans. Overall this dish gets a C. It wasn't awesome; it wasn't awful. It was just all right.
I wanted to try alligator, but you reminded me it would have been pre-frozen and shipped halfway across the country, so I refrained. I guess I do have to go to the source if I want to try that mud dweller. Otherwise, what's it going to taste like? Chicken?
JAKE: I'll be headed back for frog legs.
Bread pudding was ultra light. I'm guessing it's made with the same sourdough or French bread that was served toasted with each of our dishes.
JASON: Ending the meal with a delicately sweet dessert helped ease my irritation.