Every Day Is Mardi Gras at Cypress Grill Cafe
Owner re-creates essence of Louisiana at Southwest Austin cafe
By Angela Shelf Medearis, 11:00AM, Thu. Feb. 7
Recently, I had a chance to talk with John Haug, owner of the Cypress Grill. John is a relatively young man, but his laid back demeanor and pork pie hat give him a cool, old school, New Orleans jazz musician vibe. His personality is reflected in both the food and the atmosphere at his popular restaurant.
Haug was born and raised in Baton Rouge, La. As a teenager, he worked in restaurants. Since he's never been formally trained, he claims that he "soaked up the Cajun food culture through osmosis."� He moved to Austin to attend the University of Texas, majoring in sociology, with a minor in French. He graduated in 1993.
His college roommate and best friend had always dreamed of opening a restaurant. Haug thought that the business venture was an excellent idea, despite the fact that neither one of them had any money. Fortunately, a chef and friend of theirs from New Orleans convinced them to join him in the creation of a special gourmet Cajun food catering service. Their new venture specialized in catering parties for Apple employees, creating a lavish birthday party for Richard Garriott, founder of Origin Systems, and preparing decadent, Cajun-inspired meals for others with new found wealth during the tech boom.
The catering business motivated Haug to study cooking and the culinary industry. Haug and a sweat equity partner used their personal credit line of $30,000 and the food service contacts he'd formed from his catering business to start Cypress Grill in 2002. The first two weeks were great, and then business slowed down to a trickle. Haug, who is the type of person who always manages to look on the bright side of a situation, says that an empty restaurant forces you to learn how to market your business.
Cypress Grill now ranks as one of Austin's favorite restaurants on the annual Austin Chronicle poll. The restaurant's popularity is due in part to Haug's love of the social aspect of the food business, and the way that he takes care of his guests. He extends the same care to his "great staff"� and takes pride in the fact that employee turnover is low and his staff enjoys working there.
A lot has changed since Cypress Grill opened more than ten years ago. The simple wooden bar that Haug built and stained still remains, although he has plans to remodel it, but the business has expanded and grown. Both Haug and the restaurant have also triumphed over both economic and environmental challenges. The down-turn in the housing market and the Deep Water Horizon disaster in 2010 impacted the spending ability of his customer base and his access to Gulf water oysters, a crucial part of many of his Cajun recipes, for four months.
Haug could have used West Coast oysters on his menu, but those oysters have a different taste, texture and don't fry up plump and crispy like the ones from the Gulf. Rather than serve oysters that weren't authentic to his cuisine, Haug took oysters off his menu and explained the problem to his sympathetic customers.
One thing that hasn't changed about Haug or Cypress Grill is the way that Mardi Gras is celebrated. Each year, Haug does his best to re-create the good times, flavor, and fun of Mardi Gras at Cypress Grill. The celebration has grown bigger and louder each year.
In Louisiana, Mardi Gras is a weeklong celebration. Schools and businesses are officially closed. The motto for Mardi Gras is laissez les bon temps rouler (let the good times roll). While Mardi Gras is limited to a single day at Cypress Grill, good food and a good time are guaranteed every day of the week.
The restaurant's Mardi Gras celebration begins on Fat Tuesday, Feb. 12th, at 11am, and goes until 10pm, with an all-day crawfish boil, beads, balloons, dancing, and feasting on some of the best Cajun food in town. There are always slices of authentic King Cake, imported from the legendary Gambino's Bakery in New Orleans. Jean-Pierre & the Zydeco Angels will musically set the party mood starting at 6:30.
All of the items on Cypress Grill's fabulous menu will be available for order on Fat Tuesday, including appetizer portions of the Boudin Balls, real Cajun boudin sausage, rolled in seasoned bread crumbs, fried golden and crispy and served with a side of homemade remoulade sauce ($6.99), seafood gumbo ($7.59), and a chicken and andouille sausage gumbo with a rich, dark roux ($7.59).
A Mardi Gras celebration wouldn't be complete without a serving of Cypress Grill's seafood platters, ($8.99), creamy old-fashioned red beans and white rice, served with a huge link of andouille sausage ($9.79), crawfish etouffée ($13.99), and jambalaya with chicken and andouille sausage ($10.29).
Two of my family's favorites are the center-cut and Frenched pork chop, which is brined, then grilled and topped with an exquisite chipotle-balsamic-honey glaze ($14.99), and the flavorful Atchafalaya Catfish, a whole catfish fillet that is breaded and smothered with Cypress Grill's crawfish etouffée ($15.99).
Everything on Cypress Grill's menu is fresh, delicious and authentically Cajun. Haug, who says that he's a lifer in the restaurant business, has created a wonderful tribute to the lifestyle, food, and celebrations of his Louisiana youth at the Cypress Grill.
4404 West William Cannon, Ste. L 358-7474
Monday-Friday 11:00am to 10:00pm
Saturday & Sunday 11:30am to 10:00pm
Weekend Breakfast 8:30am to 11:30am