Long Live the Queen

After two decades, Cajun Queen still has it  

Cajun Queen
1800 E. Seventh, St.
$$, D, FSB, R, P. Open nightly

You know, it's kinda nice to go to a restaurant that just wants you to have fun.

My earliest experiences with Cajun Queen came in college, a decade and a half ago. For some reason, Cajun Queen was on the short list of date restaurants for those willing (or able) to make the thirty-minute drive from Davidson. Maybe because it was fun. I recall being a year or two shy of twenty-one yet successfully ordering a whiskey and soda (I had been reading a lot of Hemingway). The bartender eyed me quizzically, more for my drink choice than my apparent age, then slid me the cocktail. It tasted awful, but I didn't dare let my date know that.

Since then, I've paid semiregular visits to the Queen, but must confess to having stayed away in recent years. There have been so many new places to check out! But after a recent evening there, I'm happy to say that the restaurant, which opened in 1985, is better than ever. For starters, this has to be the friendliest staff in the city. Our server was effusively helpful, and on my meanderings about the place (I went upstairs to check out the jazz band), everyone flashed broad grins and looked ready to get me whatever I wanted, should I want anything. I can tell you this with confidence: The bartender would have been thrilled to bring me a whiskey and soda.

Smiles are nice, but what made the night memorable was the food. Another confession: Once I and everyone else got over the Cajun food craze of the early 1990s, I never really went to Cajun Queen for the food. I will now, and so should you. This time, we resisted the lure of the excellent barbecue shrimp and fried oyster appetizers. We stayed away from the entrées of chicken, shrimp, or crawfish, prepared either Diane, Creole, or étouffée style. And I resisted the blackened or fried fish, although it was a cold night and in Florida, where I come from, that's comfort food. Instead, we headed for the specials.

We were justly rewarded. Co-owner and executive chef Howard Winter, along with co-owner and chef Robby Gottfried, devise a list of nightly specials that lends a Cajun twist to a variety of regional Southern cuisines—and even Caribbean. The blackened pork tenderloin, served with a black bean purée and pineapple salsa with a chipotle chile sauce and fried plantains, was a hearty steal for $20. The pork was cooked to perfection, and the accompaniments added a nice array of sweet, hot, and spicy flavors. I'd never seen fried plantains breaded in cornmeal, but they worked. The Cajun shrimp and grits was one of the better renditions of this ubiquitous dish that I've seen on Charlotte menus. Pretty to look at, with a rich red Creole sauce on one half of the plate, rustic yellow cheddar grits on the other, and blackened jumbo shrimp resting on top, the dish was packed with flavor and mercifully not loaded with cream, like so many other versions.

Earlier this year, the restaurant, located in an old house, closed for two months so the owners could freshen up the interior and add two outdoor patios—the second-level terrace is a beautiful spot for a Dixie beer in warm weather. A Dixieland jazz band plays every night. The music completes the New Orleans ambience, though it's a bit loud to actually sit and dine in the same room as the players. Better to drink in the adjacent bar—in classic New Orleans style.

Categories: Food + Drink, Restaurant Reviews, Revisit