Those who seek to understand this longing need to look no further than South Austin, home to Evangeline Cafe.
Owner Curtis Clarke, a native of Lake Charles, Louisiana, opened the Cajun restaurant on Brodie Lane in 2003. Photos, posters and relics echoing Louisiana’s rich culture conceal the walls—a collection which Clarke says has been supplemented over time.
Even the restaurant’s tabletops, covered in Louisiana-brewed Abita Beer caps, pay homage to Clarke’s homeland, which he said he left in 1991 after 14 years of contemplating a move to Austin.
“I told myself, ‘If you are ever sitting there looking in the mirror thinking, What am I going to do now? Move to Austin,’” he said.
That moment came after closing a bar and grill he owned in Lake Charles, Clarke said. Bereft of any formal culinary training, Clarke began his career in the service industry in 1976 waiting tables in a Mexican restaurant. Prior to that, he was a certified farrier, or person who specializes in shoeing horses.
Clarke credits his mastery of Cajun cuisine to both his mother and his late friend, John “Maw Maw” Theriot, an accordion player who instilled in him the balanced art of creating the perfect gumbo roux.
The menu at Evangeline Cafe honors Cajun traditions, such as red beans and rice, jambalaya, gumbo and etoufee, but it also reflects Clarke’s creativity as a chef. Gold Band Creole is his twist on the classic shrimp Creole, served over fettuccini pasta instead of rice and with a gold band of Parmesan cheese.
Named after the Contraband Bayou and “so good they should be illegal,” Oysters Contraband features six golden-fried oysters served over homemade potato chips topped with spicy sausage remoulade.
When Clarke opened the restaurant 14 years ago, he worried about the impact its then-remote location could have on customers. Today, Clarke said he cannot envision Evangeline Cafe anywhere other than South Austin.
Who is Evangeline?
An homage to the female protagonist of an epic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Clarke said he chose to name Evangeline Cafe after the “heroine of Cajun culture.”
In Longfellow’s poem Evangeline is separated from her husband during the forcible expulsion of the Acadians from Nova Scotia by the British in the mid-1700s. After searching for years, Evangeline finally reconnects with her husband on his deathbed while working as a Sister of Mercy.
The Acadians eventually settled in Louisiana, and today their descendants are known as “Cajuns.”
8106 Brodie Lane, Ste. 110, Austin
Hours: Mon.-Thu. 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., closed Sun.
Bar stays open with a limited menu 10 p.m.-midnight on Wed.