Mother of Pearl's
Reviewed by Virginia B. Wood, Fri., Feb. 25, 2000
Mother of Pearl's9033 Research, 719-4455
Mon-Thu, 11am-2am; Fri-Sat, 5pm-2am
(Dinner served until 10pm, late-night menu until 1am)
This North Austin restaurant/live music venue is one resilient Mother. Popular in the late Eighties as Pearl's Oyster Bar and reborn after a disastrous fire simply as Pearl's, this never-say-die operation is running again in its third incarnation. Mother of Pearl's prides itself on its Cajun-Creole food and on being the only place in North Austin where diners can enjoy live music. I can't vouch for the music lineup because our dinner visits were in the early evening, but friends and I did find some winners on Mother's menu. I noticed the term "Tex-Cajun" on a section of the menu and that's a pretty appropriate term to describe the food.
We saw several tables around us go for oysters on the half shell ($3.95 for six, $5.95 for 12) and the peel & eat shrimp ($4.95 for six, $6.95 for 12) but we opted for more adventurous appetizer selections. The spicy shrimp dip ($3.45) is a well-spiced creamy concoction studded with small whole shrimp. The bowl of dip arrives amidst a hefty platter of addictive homemade potato chips. Share this substantial opener with several people or you'll be too full to enjoy dinner. Another excellent choice is a platter of Crawfish Quesadillas ($6.95), triangles of flour tortilla filled with a tongue-tingling cheese mixture and plenty of plump mudbug tails. Unfortunately, our order of Dixie beer-battered onion rings ($2.99) had lost their heat and crispness by the time they arrived at our table, but the overall dish got some points for the smoky-hot ketchup paired with the limp rings.
Dinner entrees such as shrimp, chicken, sausage, and vegetarian pasta dishes, house versions of jambalaya and étouffée, fried seafood, steaks, and blackened fish all come with a choice of house soup or salad. On the first visit, I was somewhat disconcerted to find that the gumbo ($2.75 cup) I insisted on for my soup course bore a striking resemblance to the Crawfish ...touffée ($7.95) I chose for an entree. The only significant difference being the shrimp and oysters in the first and the many crawfish in the second. In my experience, gumbo and étouffée are distinctly different dishes one is a hearty soup served with rice on the side while the other is "smothered" seafood over rice. These two dishes require different-colored roux and subtly different seasonings but it appeared that this kitchen has one "Mother" preparation with interchangeable seafood. If I hadn't tried both items in the same meal, I might never have noticed this interesting interpretation of two classic Louisiana dishes.
On another chilly evening, fiery bowls of silken corn and crawfish bisque were our waiter's reliable suggestion before a pleasing dinner of Shrimp Creole ($7.95) and blackened snapper ($10.25). Mother of Pearl's prepares a credible version of Shrimp Creole with a bountiful serving of toothsome crustaceans swimming in a piquant tomato sauce flavored with onions, green peppers, and garlic around a mountain of white rice. The blackened snapper is coated with a blend of Cajun spices before it hits the smoking hot pan. It arrives at the table in a pool of tasty "étouffée" sauce with a glistening dark exterior that reveals moist, flaky fish inside with each bite. They were both good choices with bountiful portions at very reasonable prices.
Considering how substantial both the appetizers and entrees are here, it's a wonder they sell dessert at all, but on both visits, wait persons were eager to recommend desserts. We finally succumbed to sharing an order of peach cobbler ô la mode ($2.95) and found the cinnamon-sugar-dusted crust, warm fruit, and melting vanilla ice cream to be irresistible even in our sated state. The service at Mother of Pearl's was friendly and informative, if a little slow at times, and the festive Mardi Gras-style decorations help disguise the rather business-like upscale stripmall space. A return visit is in order in anticipation of Mardi Gras. I've got my eye on a Crawfish Po-Boy and a big plate of those homemade potato chips!