Here's the countdown for a Bayou Bucket: Six boiled shrimp, five crab legs, three catfish pieces, two boiled potatoes, one ear of corn and four cups of sides and sauces.
Meo Mio, I'm stuffed!
The Bayou Bucket -- in several combinations -- is the signature menu item at Meo Mio's, the Cajun-flavored restaurant on Cummings Highway. But with selections from fish and seafood to chicken, steaks and pasta, and flavors from creamy mild to sweat-popping spicy, patrons are nearly guaranteed to find something they'll like.
Meo Mio's opened earlier this year in the former Patrick's location and raised its profile by sponsoring a well-received jazz/blues/zydeco stage and a concession tent at Riverbend.
I had visited once before and was charmed by the Big Easy vibe, the friendly staff and the tasty food. A second trip confirmed the impression.
IF YOU GO
Where: Meo Mio's Cajun and Seafood Restaurant, 4119 Cummings Highway.
Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. seven days a week.
Price range: $1.99 (corn on the cob) to $21.99 (Bayou Bucket).
Louisiana foods and flavors dominate at Meo Mio's from appetizers to dessert.
The starters menu ($5.49 to $8.79) leans pretty heavily on deep-frying, from crawfish and gator tail to shrimp, green beans and chicken tenders. Nonfried offerings include wings, crab-stuffed mushrooms and potato skins. Oysters on the half shell are $8.99 for a half-dozen, $14.99 for a dozen.
Po' boy sandwiches come with shrimp, oysters, catfish or grilled steak ($7.49-$7.99). Muffeletas, monster layers of meats, cheese and olive dressing on a bun, come as halves ($6.99) or whole ($12.99). There's a burger offering and a Reuben (the menu notes, "Yes, we know. We just like Reubens!").
The signature Bayou Buckets, served in a real galvanized pail, offer a choice of boiled or fried shrimp, Cajun catfish, fried oysters or crab legs ($15.99-$21.99), plus combos ($21.99). They come with boiled red potatoes, seasoned corn on the cob, slaw, red beans and a garlic bread stick plus condiments -- cocktail and tartar sauce and melted butter.
Crawfish Julie over tilapia crowns the fish and chicken entrees ($11.99-$16.99), but there's also Chicken Diablo, grilled and glazed with plum sauce; grilled chicken breast or catfish; and chicken tenders in barbecue, buffalo or plain flavors.
Rosemary Chicken or Shrimp Parmesan ($12.99-$14.99) is folded into a creamy sauce and served over penne pasta.
Beef lovers can order flame-grilled ribeye with or without Cajun seasoning ($15.99-$18.99).
And it wouldn't be a Cajun restaurant without seafood gumbo, shrimp and grits, jambalaya, red beans and boudin sausage ($9.99-$15.99).
Sides include house salad, slaw, potatoes baked, boiled or fried, and herb-seasoned corn on the cob.
And if you can bear to eat another bite, try the New Orleans-style bread pudding or bourbon balls, New York or Gourmet Turtle cheesecake or Ultimate Chocolate Cake ($5.25-$5.99).
There's a kids menu -- mini cheesburger, chicken strips or popcorn shrimp, all served with fries ($4.99), and a full bar. The beer menu features products from Abita, a Louisiana brewery.
We started with Rajun Buffalo Shrimp. The server brought eight plump shrimp, deep-fried in a light batter and coated in a tomato-based, herb-tinted sauce that was slightly sweet and -- well, it met my criteria for spicy food: hot enough to make your eyelids sweat. The accompanying ranch dressing didn't help put out the pleasant fire.
My entree was the Market Street Bucket: crab legs, boiled shrimp and Cajun catfish, plus fixings. The fried catfish stood out -- the cornmeal breading was perfectly crispy, not at all oily, with a spicy taste that was just a touch too salty. The sweet vinegar slaw with celery seeds was like what I make at home. The red beans and rice was tasty, but I put it aside so I could concentrate on the other flavors and textures.
My companion had the Rosemary Chicken Parmesan. It was a plentiful serving of chicken breast in a creamy, well-flavored sauce over pasta. It came with a house salad, fresh and crisp, but the raspberry vinaigrette was more like a sweet syrup than a tangy dressing.
The Meo Mio's staff knows how to make folks feel welcome. They're easy to banter with, they know the menu and they're focused on making sure the customers have a good experience. Our server kept a close eye on our table and made sure we didn't run out of anything.
Tables in the large, pine-paneled main room aren't crammed together, so it's easy to get around. An oversize sculpture of a smiling horn player mounted high on a wall overlooks the tables and sets the mood: This is a place to party, with live blues on Mondays, karaoke on Tuesdays and other entertainment scheduled.
There are booths on the right-hand wall and taller pub tables on either end of the long bar on the left. Stairs go up to a balcony with larger tables for parties, and a glassed-in porch behind the bar leads to a deck.
It's not on my usual route, but the loose and laid-back, Big Easy spirit and the top-notch food will definitely draw me back to Meo Mio's.
But if I order another Bayou Bucket, I'll be sure I have someone there to help me eat it.
Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...