In so many ways Louisville is the opposite of New Orleans. I won’t enumerate them here, but think about it this weekend when you have some time. The point is that despite that difference, Louisville — with its growing restaurant scene and population of families of moderate wealth — is an ideal place for a New Orleans-themed restaurant. And that’s just what Bourbon Street Seafood & Chophouse has brought to a strip mall alcove on McCaslin.
The first thing I noticed when I walked into Bourbon Street was actually a familiar face. Leeland Graves is the executive chef, and he was hanging out by the bar. The last time I’d seen him was at the short-lived Zenza restaurant in north Boulder. Zenza shut down abruptly after only a couple months of business, but it certainly wasn’t for the food. Graves’ barbecue, chicken wings and southern sides were killer, and it was unfortunate the Boulder outpost didn’t work.
At Bourbon Street though, Graves has cultivated a New Orleans-meets-Colorado style and vibe. It’s a little jarring aesthetically to see wall paintings of bayou alligators adjacent to Colorado flag light installations and a beautiful floor-to-ceiling wooden bar. Colorado beers are advertised while slow Cajunstyle blues rock plays on the speakers. Though it makes sense, it’s still an odd collaboration of styles, maybe even a little hokey. But then again, how many Bourbon Street bars and restaurants look exactly like this? New Orleans bars are fun and easy, taking on seemingly arbitrary styles based on the personal predilections of their owners. In that sense, the vibe was spot-on.
I started the evening with a hurricane, which is always a good move. I was reminded that hurricanes don’t always taste like a hurricane you drank before, mixed with just a touch of vomit and Old Bay. Thought it was no paradigm of the cocktail — a little too heavy on tart (the lime and passion fruit juice in this drink attack the throat) — it was boozy, red, tall and sweet, so it’s all the same to me in the end.
I was also happy to see Bourbon Street has Abita on tap, and a house sazerac, but it was odd to see such a deep collection and promotion of Moscow mules; unless the connection is simply that people drink Moscow mules to get drunk and people in New Orleans like to get drunk.
For food, we ordered a little from the happy hour menu and some from the regular menu: fried okra, red beans and rice, fried alligator, étouffée and a blackened catfish po’ boy.
The okra was pickled and zinged on the tongue. It came with a jalapeno remoulade, a creamy and not-sospicy dip. The batter was thick and greaseless. The same batter encased the alligator, whose meat was chunked and refreshingly tender. Alligator can be tough and chewy often, and so Bourbon Street treated it well, and if you haven’t had it, alligator sort of tastes like mild chicken. You might be better off, if you’re an adventurous eater, with the fried frog legs at Bourbon Street, which will have more of a freshwater funk.
The red beans and rice were smoky and deeply seasoned. Thin strips of andouille sausage sat atop the rice, and the beans had the excellent, robust flavor of a ball of cloves dipped in sweet mud.
The catfish po’ boy was a solid sandwich. The bread-to-fish ratio could have been a lot better as the thick bread soaked up too much mouth moisture. However, the innards of the sandwich were excellent: catfish blackened and seasoned with Cajun spices to perfection sat atop bitterweet greens that brought out citrus and reed in the fish, and the red onion made it all pop.
The étouffée was close enough. The roux was perfectly thick, and the rice and trinity of vegetables created a nice base for the seafood, but there wasn’t the full integration of flavor I was hoping for. It is, however, the kind of dish that got better the day after.
The bottom line is Bourbon Street is a fun and close-enough representation of New Orleans cooking, led by a young and talented chef. I’ll be back to test my theory that a crawfish and hurricane hangover has to be easier on the body at altitude.