Mardi Gras 2017 (February 28th) is almost here. While there aren’t many restaurants serving true, authentic Cajun and Creole cuisine in the city, N’awlins-inspired food can definitely be found at a few places. Catahoula, in the Queen Village section of South Philadelphia (775 S. Front Street), is as close to rustic New Orleans/Cajun/Creole cuisine as you can get at a sit-down restaurant in the city these days.
Catahoula is owned and operated by Shlomo Kaufman. Shlomo and his family originally moved to Philadelphia from Israel in 1971, and had a brief stint of living in Houston, TX where they owned and operated a successful cheesesteak shop. They eventually made their way back to Philadelphia, and upon some prodding from his wife to get back into the restaurant business, decided to open Catahoula in 2009. It replaced the old French spot Sauté. It debuted to much fanfare and even received 2 Bells from Craig LaBan in 2010.
The restaurant had many great years. But then Louisiana-born Chef Paul Martin left (currently with South Restaurant) and they had issues with a general manager who was stealing money from the restaurant. Despite those setbacks, the casual neighborhood bar and restaurant endures in its 8th year under the tutelage of Executive Chef Dave Williams and his head chef Rodney Burges. Dave had been the sous chef from the beginning and Rodney has been there for about 4 years.
The menu is heavy on the classics — Jambalaya, Gumbo, Étouffée, Po’ boys, shrimp & grits, fried green tomatoes, fried catfish, blackened chicken, etc. You can also find wings, burgers, flatbreads, sandwiches, salads, and desserts like Bananas Foster Bread Pudding on the menu. They feature Live Crawfish Boil while in season. Currently, it’s offered every Tuesday and Wednesday.
They’re regularly tweaking and editing the menu depending on customer feedback. In fact, they are launching an updated menu next week which will introduce some smoked BBQ items such as baby back ribs, chicken, and pulled pork due to popular demand.
The bar kicks out excellent classic and creative cocktails thanks to bartender extraordinaire Adam Jonas.
Of course you can get the traditional Hurricane, but also very stiff drinks like an Old Fashioned, Sazerac, Martinis, among many other tantalizing tipples. If you’re a cocktail enthusiast such as I am, you’ll find a worthy sipper here. I tried the Hurricane and Southern Flame. Both were very, very good. In fact, I could have easily sat there drinking Hurricane’s all night long! 😉🍹🍹🍹
They also offer many beers on tap, including Louisiana-based Abita Brewing Company’s Purple Haze and Wrought Iron IPA. 🍺
Okay, okay… so how is the food at Catahoula? I’m no expert on New Orleans cuisine as I have never visited NOLA (it’s on the list to visit, though), but we were quite pleased with everything we had. We sampled a few of the classics and the crawfish boil. Let’s start with those delectable mini lobsters — sometimes called crawdads, and locally called “mudbugs,” they are a Louisiana favorite when in season. Catahoula has them flown in from down south. 🦐
While I’m not a complete virgin to crawfish, I can count the number of times I’ve had them on one hand. So I needed a refresher on how to eat them. Which is pretty simple — pull off the tail, suck the head, and eat that luscious tail meat. There’s a little more to it than that, but as long as you get to that tail meat, it’s all good. These are probably my favorite edible crustaceans now. The meat was tender and melted in my mouth. The butter and seasonings added rich unctuousness, and the boiled potatoes and corn on the cob rounded out the dish to make it immensely satisfying. You have to try these while they have them. 🦐
I’m a late bloomer to shrimp and grits. In fact, I have always hated shrimp and avoided eating it like the plague. But I guess I’m coming around. I won’t specifically seek it out on the menu, but I’m no longer repulsed by them. On the other hand, my eyes have been opened to the deliciousness of grits. This shrimp & grits dish was extremely flavorful and creamy. The cream sauce is made with truffled mushrooms and gouda cheese. Talk about decadent! It is served with amazing collard greens on top and a luxuriant New Orleans BBQ sauce. If you love shrimp & grits, you’ll be into these. 🍤🌽
Let’s talk about collard greens shall we? When they are made right, they are amazing. I’m happy to report that the collard greens at Catahoula are just that — amazing! I’ll go as far to say they are perfect. Chef Rod told us that they are slow-braised with bacon for up to 5 hours hence an extremely tender and savory green that packs a lot of umami flavor. They were especially delicious eaten with the superb Jambalaya!
I love Jambalaya. I’ve had it many times at different places and also make my own version at home. This is as good as I’ve had it. And like I said above, great with the collard greens! I could eat just those two and be very happy.
We were also treated to New Orleans BBQ Shrimp. Again, not the biggest fan of shrimp, but I enjoyed this dish quite a bit. In fact, I loved it. Perfectly cooked shrimp served with corn, scallions, roasted peppers on top of delicious griddled cornbread and New Orleans BBQ sauce. I feel the cornbread is the star of the plate; such a simple presentation and yet full of flavor.
As you can see, Catahoula is serving up some righteous New Orleans-inspired cuisine. This is just a small preview of what they offer on the menu. If it is any indication, we reckon everything is just as good. In fact, I look forward to going back to try a Po’ Boy really soon. They also serve what looks to be a fabulous Brunch!
Have we tempted you enough?? Put it on your to visit list on Mardi Gras or another time very soon.
When you go, be sure to say hello to Shlomo, Dave, and Rod.
I meet a lot of restaurant people and I can tell these guys are truly passionate about the restaurant and food they make. They are a strong team that focuses on making the very best food and ensuring every customer is well-fed and happy during their visit. The restaurant may not be big and a little bit out of the way, but you feel welcome from the time you walk in until you walk out. When Shlomo is there, he makes a point to try to speak to everyone — not only to get their feedback but to get to know them. I really admire that as there are a lot of restaurants owners that just see customers as a check.
Check it out and tell them Philly Grub sent you!
The Doyenne of Dining in Philadelphia and South Jersey.