Mama Roux: the return of Michael and Yoli Amr; and the return of good – no, GREAT – Louisiana-style cooking to the Austin area. They've been open about a month. The GF and I went over the weekend for dinner. But first some background: This is the couple that started with Gumbo’s, up on Bratton Lane, maybe 15 or more years ago; expanded to a second location, and sold them both (and Gumbo’s is still in existence, downtown; while I don’t want to characterize what happened to Gumbo's after it changed hands, I’ll just say that Mama Roux is, to my taste, much better); started a couple other ventures through the years, with variations on the name Yoli; and then ducked out of sight for a couple of years. Years in which they were sorely missed, at least by some.
So now they’re back, in the same little brand-new strip mall area as Ho Ho, near the Wal-Mart at I-35 and Parmer. Don’t let the undesirable neighborhood and soulless environs deter you: this is the real deal. We started with a couple of beers and a cup of seafood gumbo. This is exactly what gumbo should be: a dark roux, in which the trinity has dissolved… merged… into a heavenly broth that is much more than the sum of its parts; a few pieces of okra; some good smoky Andouille sausage; and loads and loads of crawfish, shrimp, crab, fish – these critters were not swimming, because they were too crowded in for that. All over a scoop of white rice. Oh, and the ‘cup?’ It’s a bowl, make no mistake. Can’t imagine how big the ‘bowl’ on the menu is; we split the cup, and it was enough for an appetizer for both of us. But it did what good gumbo does for you: makes you want to keep eating it long past the point of satiety, makes you want to lick the bowl for every last delicious drop. The GF, raised in Louisiana, so she’s got some cred, concurs emphatically.
Next up was the Catfish Mama for me, and the swordfish special for the GF. Catfish Mama is a blackened fillet topped with shrimp and crawfish tails in a spicy cream sauce. Perfectly cooked so that the fish had a nice crispy crust, but was still moist and tender, and perfectly seasoned. Dirty rice and Cajun cabbage on the side, again, I couldn’t stop eating, even though by this time I was really quite full indeed (and I’m not a little guy, by any means). Swordfish special: two good-sized swordfish steaks, (OK, this was probably a fluke; the waiter mentioned that there were only two swordfishes left; and one piece was a bit smaller than the other; so I’m guessing Michael, who does the cooking (ok, another side note: why this place is consistently good is because Michael not only creates the dishes, he also really does do the cooking, for every dish. You WILL see him in the kitchen, actually cooking. Small place, maybe 20 tables, and he keeps it that way so he and a couple of helpers can handle the whole thing) decided to just throw them both on the plate. That’s the kind of guy he is.) blackened and topped with sautéed shrimp; again, perfectly cooked, avoiding the common, tragic fate of swordfish, the dreaded dryness: no, none of that here. It was goooood. Dense, fresh, perfectly seasoned, very satisfying.
This is not frou-frou food; it’s simple, hearty and delicious. The menu leans heavily toward seafood, but chicken, steak, salads and pasta make appearances as well.
The GF couldn’t finish her sword, so we got it boxed up to go. Dessert was out of the question. Well, OK, I was in a good enough mood by that time to let my arm be twisted, so we got one to go: the strawberries and cream. Better than it sounds; I’m not really sure what made it so good – dessert is not really my thing, and I hardly ever order it; this was just perfectly fresh and perfectly balanced – not too sweet, a hint of vanilla to complement the fresh berries; it was really good, the next morning for breakfast. The waiter was also pushing the Tabasco cheesecake, which does sound intriguing. It’s now on the list….
Service was friendly and good. The only false note was when a fill-in waiter was covering for our regular waiter and took our drink order – and described the Abita Jockamo as a double bock, when it turned out to be an IPA. OK, he’s not a beer guy; the regular waiter was (we had a conversation about IPAs and Double IPAs and beyond…). And since I like IPAs anyway, there was no harm done.
This is the real deal, folks. Go. Meet Yoli, if you haven’t already (that’s a whole ‘nother story) and have some of the best food you’ll ever taste.