Chattanooga has no shortage of casual dining, but finding one that breaks out of the "traditional" Mexican, burgers or chain-based fare can be a challenge. N'awlins Big Easy Bistro attempts to deliver, and does so, with some caveats.
As expected by the name, Cajun items such as chicken and andouille gumbo ($6) and a range of po' boy sandwiches (from smothered Cajun chicken, $7, to oyster, $8.50) are easy to find and offer wide variety for palate and pocketbook.
We chose traditional Louisiana dinners; the Italian-inspired muffuletta sandwich ($8) with a side of red beans and rice for an additional $1.50 and the crawfish étouffée ($11).
All arrived to our table promptly and cooked well. Since my date and I both have family in the Crescent City, we have high expectations of how New Orleans food should taste.
The muffuletta was savory, and the bread, while not the same consistency as the famed Central Market in New Orleans, was good and provided a solid platform for what can easily be a very messy meal. The cheese (usually provolone and Emmentaler) suited the sandwich well.
As for the giardiniera (olive salad) traditionally served on the sandwich, we enjoyed it as well. Most restaurants have a well-guarded recipe for their giardiniera, which defines the taste.
The red beans and rice were thin-skinned kidney beans with a hint of sage and bay in addition to typical ingredients, and complemented the muffuletta well.
The crawfish étouffée's roux was a bit too thin in consistency and flavor. Cooking roux is an art form and requires both skill and patience, certainly a tough combination in a restaurant.
The crawfish were tasty though, and the addition of some nearby hot sauce seemed to perk this dish up for our palate.
We splurged afterwards and tried the bread pudding ($5). A rich sauce, with just the right balance of sweet and buttery saltiness, seemed to be a good foil for the heavily seasoned meal. The scoop of vanilla ice cream that accompanied the pudding didn't hurt one bit either.
Where: N'awlins Big Easy Bistro, 3103 Broad St.
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday.
Price range: Salads $5-$8.50, sandwiches $7-$8.50, entrees $8-$15.
Our server was polite, helpful and prompt. Our dinners came out shortly after we ordered and were as requested.
Formerly a soup restaurant and undoubtedly a Taco Bell in an earlier life (judging from the windows and design) N'awlins appears to be aimed at the lunch and casual dining crowd.
Nothing fancy here; Formica tabletops and folding chairs dot the space. A large floor cooler full of ice and the requisite ice-cold beer provide a tempering note if you're not up to the well-seasoned fare.
It almost seems unfair to point out that, as we finished up our meal, we noticed the carcasses of more than several dead flies in the windowsill where we were seated. We all know that there are flies in the world, but some housekeeping would go a long way here to keep diners happy.
Don't expect a fancy-pants dinner here. Do expect a solid, Cajun-inspired meal at reasonable prices.
Other dining options include the Bucket of Fun ($15 for your choice of crawfish, oysters or shrimp), which is a Low Country boil, and oyster roasts on Saturday nights. Visiting N'awlins' FaceBook page will give diners a better sense of the changing menu items.