Mama Roux New Orleans Style Cafe
Gumbo's Michael and Yoli Amr are back!
Reviewed by Virginia B. Wood, Fri., Oct. 16, 2009
Mama Roux New Orleans Style Cafe13000 N. I-35 #600, 490-1304
Tuesday-Friday, 11am-2pm & 5-10pm; Saturday, 5-10pm
Michael and Yoli Amr are back! The talented couple founded Gumbo's in a very rural North Austin in 1994 and expanded to Round Rock and Downtown Austin before finally selling their interest in the restaurants. Mama Roux is their new venture. The cafe is one of several ethnic eateries (Indian, Thai, Italian, Mexican) in the Wal-Mart shopping center on the Northwest corner of North I-35 and Parmer Lane. (I was surprised to discover Mama Roux has very little Web presence, and I would have never found the place if I had depended on an erroneous Google map. Be advised.) A rather nondescript strip mall exterior hides a comfortable and inviting dining room decorated in black and white. The decor evokes casual Crescent City eateries, and the aromas emanating from chef Michael Amr's open kitchen confirm that the cuisine is that of his native Louisiana. The affordable menu offers very generous portions of such New Orleans specialties as red beans and rice, gumbos, po'boys, salads, various Cajun/Creole seafood dishes, beer, and wine. The dining room seats about 60, and the floor is manned by the outgoing Yoli Amr and an experienced, professional staff, some of whom have been with her since the original Gumbo's.
Our group was part of a full house early on a recent Saturday night. We started with a delicious blackened shrimp cocktail ($8.50), which features huge Gulf shrimp seasoned with the house spice rub and a piquant cocktail sauce for dipping. Our other appetizer was not as successful. What was described on the menu as chicken beignets with caramel rum sauce ($6.75) turned out to be prebreaded, fast-food chicken tenders in a sauce that bears no flavor of caramel or rum. I don't have space here for a full-scale rant about how the food that comes to the table needs to correspond to the menu description, but, in this case, the name of the dish is misleading and the product is a real disappointment. The meal did a complete about-face when our entrées arrived at the table, demonstrating that Michael has a very deft hand with seafood. Salmon le Roux ($15.50) is a large, toothsome filet of salmon baked in a crisp prosciutto wrapper, topped with a mound of sautéed crawfish tails. Catfish Crawdaddy ($14.50) offers huge, flaky filets of catfish encased in a peppery cornmeal crust, napped with a subtly spiced crawfish étouffée. All entrées come with a choice of two sides, including dirty rice, red beans and rice, garlic mashed potatoes, or a vegetable of the day. My friends loved the collard greens. The steak special of the evening ($32) was a blackened 10-ounce tenderloin filet cooked exactly to my specifications, nestled in a large platter of sautéed scallops, shrimp, and crawfish tails. There was enough well-prepared protein on that platter for three meals, but the side of dirty rice was gummy and unremarkable.
For my second visit to Mama Roux, a friend and I joined a hungry crowd of businessmen and employees from the surrounding stores at lunchtime. My excellent meal started with a hearty cup of seafood and andouille sausage gumbo ($4.50) based on a nutty-brown roux with gentle cayenne back heat and chock-full of sausage slices, big Gulf shrimp, chunks of blackened catfish, and plump crawfish tails over rice. Considering the large size of the cup, I'm thinking the bowl of gumbo ($8.95) must be a tureen. My guest enjoyed the Jazzy Blackened Salmon Salad ($10.95) – a platter of crisp greens, toasted almond slivers, and tangy feta cheese tossed in a light basil vinaigrette, topped with a perfectly cooked salmon filet. The spice rub on the fish contrasted with the quality olive oil in the dressing, the salty feta, and the sweetness of the nuts makes for a dynamic flavor combination on this dish. The crawfish po'boy ($9.95) is equally satisfying; a sturdy bun slathered with house tartar sauce, dressed with lettuce and tomatoes under an avalanche of lightly fried crawfish tails, paired with chile-dusted fries. It is plenty for lunch and dinner. Our server insisted we end the meal with a slice of the house signature dessert, Tabasco cheesecake ($4.25). It was a revelation. The creamy, delicate filling is gently spiced with a Tabasco pepper jelly that imparts a dainty tingle on the back of the tongue with each bite. The enormous serving is blanketed with a fresh strawberry sauce that provides just the right counterpoint to the rich, velvety cheese. This innovative creation was the crowning glory of a delightful meal.
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