Little Rock is no stranger to restaurants that try to capture the spirit and flavor of South Louisiana cooking (with varying degrees of success), but Redbone’s is one of the better examples of Creole cuisine in the city. On a recent visit, we sat down in a large, comfortable booth and were pleased to see Abita Amber on draft, a south Louisiana brew that’s one of the smoothest, best-tasting craft beers around. The beer came quickly, and it came cold — we were off to a winning start.
We started our meal with some gumbo and etouffee, figuring that these two classic dishes would be the best measure of how authentic the food really was. The gumbo was dark and thick, filled with chunks of sausage and vegetables and topped by a scoop of sticky white rice. The flavor of the gumbo was rich, and it had a sneaky spice to it that really became apparent as we kept eating. The crawfish etouffee had much the same spice profile to it, and although I found the texture of the rice to be a touch gummy, I was pleased with the amount of crawfish that was in the dish; in too many places, crawfish etoufee is a lot like crab rangoon on a Chinese buffet — all filler and no meat.
For our entrees, two of our party ordered po’ boys — one shrimp and one oyster. The sandwiches came out on crusty bread, piled so high with fried seafood that it was hard to close them up tight enough to hold. The shrimp were small but plentiful, and fried a nice golden-brown that left them sweet and tender with a nice crunch. The oysters were large, plump and meaty, and the coating on them was spicy and flavorful without covering up their nice, gamey flavor. Although I’m generally a fan of my po’ boys topped with slaw, I enjoyed the lettuce, tomato, red onion, and mustard that these were served with, although the yellow mustard had a tendency to overpower everything at times.
The ladies in the group decided to branch out a bit further, and I think they really got the better part of the meal. One ordered the blackened Tilapia Fish Tacos, two fillets of tender white fish coated with spices and blackened nicely on the grill, while the other ordered what became the table favorite, the Black n’ Mac. Redbone’s Black n’ Mac consists of a chicken breast which is coated with spices, blackened on the grill, sliced thin, and then served over a bowl of luscious baked macaroni and cheese. Sound decadent? It is. The chicken was juicy and tender, and the heat of the Cajun spices was the perfect match for the cool creaminess of the macaroni. The macaroni itself was a nice contrast between melted cheese and a tender bread crumb topping, which to my mind is the best sort of baked mac n’ cheese. The rest of our meal was tasty, but this dish really impressed us, and I foresee it becoming my regular choice at Redbone’s.
We hadn’t planned on having dessert until our server mentioned that a fresh batch of bread pudding was coming out of the oven, and so we decided to indulge ourselves. We weren’t disappointed. The pudding was firm without being dry, and the drizzle of praline sauce over the top really made it something great with a nice blend of caramelized sugar and dense pudding that made for the perfect soothing end to a rather spicy meal. Our service was quick and efficient, even despite our server Spencer telling us that he was only working his second shift ever. I can’t say that Redbone’s was the best Cajun meal I’ve ever eaten, but with its moderate prices and friendly atmosphere, it’s quickly become one of my favorite places to eat in the River Market.