Nothing gets me ragin’ for Cajun food more than the idea of Mardi Gras. For too many people the cuisine of New Orleans begins and ends at Popeye’s Fried Chicken. And while I do love me my Popeye’s (especially after a few too many cocktails), Louisiana cooking is so much more than that. Cajun and Creole are the major influences on Louisiana cuisine. Many people think the two are the same, but they are two distinct styles of cooking.
The main difference between the two cuisines is that Creole cuisine uses tomatoes and Cajun food doesn’t. Additionally, Cajun cooking tends to be more rustic, while Creole is a bit more refined. Even a roux, the basis for sauces in both cuisines are different. A Creole roux is made with butter and flour while a Cajun roux is made with oil and flour.
Cajun originates from the term “les Acadians,” which was used to describe French colonists who settled in the Acadia region of Canada (present-day New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia). When the British conquered Acadia in the early 1700s, the inhabitants were forced to relocate and many settled in the levees and coastal marshes of Louisiana. Descendants of those original Acadians also have Native American, German or French roots. “Creole” describes the people who were born to settlers in French colonial Louisiana in the 18th century. Creoles are the descendants of the French and Spanish upper class that ruled the city. Over the years, the term Creole has also expanded to include native-born slaves of African descent. “French Creole” describes someone of European ancestry while “Louisiana Creole” implies mixed racial ancestry.
Cajun food is famous for being very well seasoned and most dishes begin with a medley of vegetables based on the French mirepoix (onion, celery, and bell pepper) the “holy trinity of Cajun cuisine.” Creole food is a blend of the various cultures of New Orleans including Italian, Spanish, African, German, Caribbean, Native American, and Portuguese. The dishes often include creamy sauces such as remoulade. Creoles had access to exotic ingredients and a wider mix of cultures.
Restaurants in New Orleans usually serve dishes from both cultures and each resident of the city has their favorite. I love both Cajun and Creole, but this year my calendar was so full that Fat Tuesday came and went and I wasn’t able to get down to N’awlins, so I went on the prowl in Fort Lauderdale for a taste of the bayou.
Shuck ‘N Dive
650 N. Federal, Fort Lauderdale
The strip mall storefront doesn’t look like much. In fact, from the outside you’d think it
was a fast food franchise. Don’t let appearances fool you. This is some mighty fine Looseeana cooking, with an emphasis on seafood (but there are plenty of options for landlubbers).
Sandwiches include po’boys, burgers, fried and blackened chicken and a patty comprised of a mixture of ground gator and spicy sausage, all of which come with a choice of tater tots, fries or authentic Zapp’s chips. Entrée options include crawfish etouffée, catfish, roast duck, fried oysters (most of which are harvested from state certified Louisiana waters) and a variety of combo platters. Sandwiches are in the $10-$15 range, entrees about five bucks more. There’s a nice surprise bordering the menu; a damn good and very reasonably priced wine selection.
On April 1-2 Shuck ‘N Dive will host its 2nd annual Craw Debauchery, a New Orleans food and music festival.
9940 NW 6th Ct., Pembroke Pines
In addition to a few apps and a half dozen po’boy options, the menu mostly consists of bowls of rice topped with any number of traditional, as well as some innovative Louisiana fare. The menu may be limited, but the flavors are not! Gumbo, jambalaya and chicken dishes are all about $9 for a large bowl with a scoop of rice. Vegetarian options, such as white chili, ratatouille or bumblebee stew, a mixture of corn and beans, are about a buck less.
For an extra buck you can combine three entrée options in one bowl. The fact that the menu not only indicates the heat level for each dish, but also points out gluten free and vegan options is a nice touch. Whatever you do, make certain you leave room for dessert; the peach cobbler is worth every calorie. This may be a small chain (there are franchises in 10 states, but this is the only Florida location), but it sure feels like a mom and pop operation.
Hot & Soul
3045 N Federal, Fort Lauderdale
Technically, this is not a Cajun/Creole restaurant. The menu at Hot & Soul is an unlikely mix of Southern, Asian and vegan fare. That being said, the menu always features a gumbo of the day (which sometimes mixes in ingredients from other cultures) and tasty BBQ shrimp, a NOLA staple. Husband and wife chefs Mike Hampton and Christy Samoy blend his experience as a cook at Emeril's Delmonico and her flair for unusual combinations that often incorporate her Filipino heritage with her Florida cracker roots. The food here is a bit pricier than the other places listed in this column, but you are getting top of the line ingredients and an extra dash of charm.