As a young college student in Illinois, my friends and I would take road trips south to the party paradise of New Orleans as often as possible. Back then, the drinking age in the city was 18. We did go to drink, but also to eat. I have always believed Cajun cooking offers some of the best dishes in the world. It's been longer than I care to admit since I've been to La Nouvelle Orleans, but it only took one sip of Chef Roland's sweet tea and one spoonful of gumbo to take me back to the culinary comforts of the Big Easy that I loved so much.
I went to Chef Roland's for lunch with four dining companions under the age of 13. On the drive there, we talked about how important it is to try new things, and I was proud to find them all gung ho to try just about anything.
And try we did. We had hushpuppies (25 cents each), collard greens ($4), southern green beans ($3), potato salad ($3), gumbo ($5.99), red beans and rice ($3.50) and enough barbecue to feed an army.
The hushpuppies were a big hit, as I knew they would be. You can't really go wrong with deep-fried cornmeal "nuggets of heavenly goodness," as my kids described them. We asked for seconds.
The other side dishes we tried varied in popularity. The potato salad had a good mix of tang and creaminess with a nice hint of dill and onion. The red beans and rice were seasoned well, but tasted better after I livened them up with a little hot sauce. I was glad to find the collard greens were grown locally, but thought some of the food was rather salty, especially the greens. The kids only tried one bite and left the rest for me.
The gumbo was loaded with hunks of sausage and had really great spice. Mixed with rice, it was a good rib-sticker. I was full before my plate of barbecue even arrived.
Chef Roland's does offer daily lunch specials starting at $6.99, but I opted to splurge and ordered the lunch combo platter, ($11.99) choosing pulled pork and brisket as my meats. The pulled pork was cubed and bathed in barbecue sauce, and the brisket was sliced deli thin, also served swimming in sauce. Brisket can dry out easily, but mine was still moist.
They offer a decent kid's menu with prices at $4.99 and $5.99. The kids all ordered ribs ($5.99), except for my Isabel, who can't turn down grilled cheese when she finds it ($4.99).
The kids all loved their food, and for 10 minutes, no one said a word, but for the occasional "Mmmm ... good." They were all too busy eating to chatter, which is one giant compliment to the chef.
My favorite parts of the meal were the sweet tea and the key lime pie ($4.50). I think I died and went to pie heaven. I ordered an extra piece to take home to my husband. The graham cracker crust had just the right amount of sweetness to blend with the tart, creamy lime filling. It was, perhaps, the best piece of pie I've ever had. I was surprised that the peach cobbler ($3.50) we tried didn't go over quite as well. Isabel's favorite dessert was the sweet potato pie ($4.50). She scowled when she had to share it. It was really sweet and pretty darned rich, and she was glad that everyone else preferred the key lime pie.
I wanted to try the mac and cheese and the bread pudding, but they were out of both on our visit. However, that does give me a good reason to visit again soon.
I was impressed with the service, too. Our waitress smiled every time she came to our table and answered questions thoughtfully, even when they came in abundance from my curious clan. The kids loved the super-casual dining room and felt at home. Some of the items didn't go over well, but most were a huge hit. I will definitely go back soon for more sweet tea, ribs, hushpuppies and pie.
—Rachel Abrahamson is an angel in pie heaven.