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The Creole Thing

Cajun food is addictive. Broussard's dining room is not.

If I lived in New Orleans, I'd be fat as a bastard. Old-Southern-colonel fat, in a Borsalino damp around the hatband from sweating in the Delta sun, a white linen jacket with the pockets full of boiled crawfish, and étouffée-stained pants with steel-belted suspenders to keep them up. Every time I walked down the street, small children would point and tell their friends, "There he go. That's the Yankee what ate the bayou."

I'd be that way because damn if them Cajuns didn't invent some of the best food in the world. A little bit Spanish, a whole lot French, and flavored with the heat and humid soul of the American South. No matter what you want to call it -- Cajun, Iberian, Creole, Acadian -- it's a beautiful cuisine, global but grounded, complicated by touches of African and Southern Italian cookery, then juiced with a little gothic bog-water voodoo. There's magic in those kitchens and cook shacks, an alchemy mixing together a half-dozen competing culinary traditions, then drawing out one long, fine thread of historic dishes that American-born gourmands still lust after today. Gumbo, chicken stew, red beans and rice, étouffée, spicy fried chicken and rum-heavy umbrella drinks served in hurricane glasses the size of a 7-Eleven Slurpee: These were the gifts to our melting-pot culture from an unbroken chain of sweaty Louisiana chefs stomping 'round their galleys in bloodstained whites, gone a little crazy from the heat but still working wizardry with the peasant foods they'd grown up with. Bananas Foster from Commander's Palace -- the world would be a poorer place without that flaming, deadly, delicious dessert. Beignets and Café du Monde for breakfast. Po' boys in the Quarter. 'Gator on a stick, charred crunchy and black over open-flame braziers on the streets of Baton Rouge.

Cajun food was a true fusion cuisine long before there was any such word, merging the best tastes of the European canon with a Baptist picnic, throwing in some booze, sweat and sex, then cooking it all the way a jazz piano man plays -- in endless, looping riffs of improvisation and flavor, always returning to a solid center of technique and tradition. It's no wonder that New Orleans produced Lagasse, our first super-celebrity chef, as well as the granddaddy of them all, Paul Prudhomme, who was slinging catchphrases on the idiot box while Emeril was still making nickels turning dough in Fall River. And it's also no wonder that New Orleans spawned the first Girls Gone Wild video, since sex runs through the streets there bare-assed on a Saturday night, with everyone buttoning up again all nice and sweet for church come Sunday morning.

The big uneasy: The food at Broussard's Creole Cafe 
is a small miracle -- but the restaurant's too large.
Mark Manger
The big uneasy: The food at Broussard's Creole Cafe is a small miracle -- but the restaurant's too large.

Location Info

Map

Broussard Creole Cafe

233 E. Colfax Ave.
Denver, CO 80203-1715

Category: Restaurant >

Region: Central Denver

Details

233 East Colfax Avenue, 303-861-0931. Hours: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. daily

Red beans and rice: $7.50
Jambalaya: $6.50
Crawfish étouffée: $7.50/$3 (side)
Shrimp creole: $7.50
Gumbo: $6.99
Po’ boys: $5.50-$7.50

Closed Location

Sex and religion, food, booze and heat. In Louisiana, they realized a long time ago that none of these things are mutually exclusive. And while smarty-pants writers from all over now say things like "food is the new sex" and cooking the new revivalist religion, in New Orleans and Shreveport and Lafayette, in the food towns and downtowns and all those nowheres in between, they've known forever that food is sex, is religion, is everything. Taken all together, it's just life -- and a good one.

But Denver is a long way from the bayou, and Broussard's Creole Cafe is a long way from becoming the kind of Creole restaurant it wants to be.

Late last year, Joel Broussard took over the oversized space on Colfax Avenue that for decades was home to Pierre Wolfe's Quorum, then a string of unsuccessful restaurants ranging from Mexican to Indian and now Creole. Officially, Broussard's has been open for four months -- but it's been doing business much longer. While Broussard was still moving in, fussing with the kitchen and the menu, people from the neighborhood would wander in, demanding gumbo and cold beers. So long before the restaurant was ready -- but as soon as the awning went up and the smell of sautéeing onions and peppers, cumin and sweet sausage and gumbo stink started drifting out onto Colfax -- Broussard's began drawing a lunch crowd, testament to the magnetic pull of Creole cuisine. And the kitchen simply served anyone who came in, trucking out plates of whatever was on the stove that day: shrimp scampi, bayou chicken salads with green onions and strawberries, stewed chicken or jambalaya. That was smart business, a way to build a loyal following.

But now, months later, Broussard's is still doing the same. It's never moved beyond that phase of scrambling disorganization and seems to be locked into a constant soft opening, still working out the kinks. There are palm trees painted on the pillars that break up the left-hand dining room (the only one I've ever seen in use, and never at close to capacity); there's a giant 'gator painted on one wall, and another cut out of green construction paper and stuck over the doors to the kitchen. Above the windows hang party-store decorations -- streamers meant to look like hanging vines or willow moss, and giant paper bougainvilleas -- but at best, this looks like a space hastily dolled up for a rush opening, at worst like a frat house decorated for a tropical-theme kegger.

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