Wednesday, July 14, 2010

ANGELINE'S LOUISIANA KITCHEN ~ Full-Throttle Authentic Southern Cooking

Hush Puppies
It was drawing near the end of May, and recently back from N’awlins, I found myself craving a plate of the deep South, more succinctly put, some spicy-good Barbeque Shrimp. I didn’t have time to stave off the wait at Brown Sugar Kitchen, which though worth the trouble, can still eat up a lunch hour pretty quickly. But — good news Bay Area diners — there can never be too many places serving up this tasty traditional platter. The world simply cannot have an excess of BBQ shrimp. ‘Nuff said!

Angeline’s Louisiana Kitchen is technically in Berkeley, but walking through the door was like stepping into New Orleans.  It’s Owner, Robert Volberg, had decided he wanted to open an eatery just before Katrina hit the coast to work her destruction on the placid people of the Gulf. The idea fomented further after Katrina left her mark, through a serendipitous meeting with a Chef by the name of Brandon Dubea, the two came up with a concept. Dubea was from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. They would join forces and bring authentic Louisiana cuisine to the Bay Area. It was the beginning of Angeline’s, which opened for business July 20, 2006.

Upon stepping into the restaurant, I gotta give ‘em an A in decor. The ambience of this place is pretty authentic New Orleans, Louisiana. The pictures, the paint, the eclectic semi-religious iconography dotting the walls. They’ve even got those signs that say “behave or leave” that can be found all over the south in one form or another.

Dungeness Crab Cakes
Our meal began, as it so often does, with ordering a lotta stuff. I never met I menu I was afraid to sample generously. Hell, isn’t that why they invented the treadmill? The first item to hit the table was a dish of Dungeness Crab Cakes. They were a taste treat. In N’awlins, they would have been Louisiana Blue Crabs, but here they were the more familiar Dungeness Crab. Both crabs are tasty and the preparation here was quite remarkable in its flavors and the remoulade served with the crab, while nicely enhanced with mustard, was not overwhelming. It really allowed the sweet meat to shine through. The meat itself was appropriately moist, and the crunch of the added arugula when it mingled with the crust of the fried cake was a really a nice touch. One of my favorite versions of this dish, and I’ve had dozens.

Voodoo (BBQ) Shrimp
Voodoo Shrimp ~ Now that’s what I’m talking about! There is nothing, nothing, nothing quite as scrumptiously delicious as a well-done plate of classic BBQ shrimp. There are a variety of takes on the dish, even in the South, but I prefer the rich, buttery, spicy and not overly “Worchestershire’d” version. I like the spiced butter to take the stage as it slathers it’s way over the shrimp in a marriage of the lightness of shrimp meat and the heavy, sexy, sauce that is sooo traditionally Southern. Paula Dean will tell you they like their butter, ya’ll, and with good reason. Sometimes there’s nothing that finishes a dish better. The shrimp here were shelled, and I prefer them to remain in the shells since it allows them to stay a bit moister in all that liquid, but it was a small point. The shrimp were really well cooked and covered in a good honest sauce. Can I get an Amen?

Mac 'n Cheese
Another treat was the Mac & Cheese. It was rich, thick and cheesy. When Mac & Cheese is baked right, you get that nice crispy surface that has been hard, then soft, then hardish-softish again on its outer surface. It’s delectable. It melts in the mouth, but finishes with the expected kiss of crunch from the little baked edges. Given that this result should be what cheese does naturally, one would think you’d always get the same result. But cha don’t. Some places the cheese is runny and kinda lifeless, like it’s spirit went dead in the oven. Maybe it’s the combination of the cheeses, or maybe it’s the skill of the chef, but I know when it’s good, and this was. I knew as soon as I bit into the crunch of the top against the soft melted cheese and noodles. The result was enticing.

Hush Puppies - These were a wonderment of corny goodness. These amazing cornbread ‘donuts’ were fried and served with a honey butter that was just the right amount of sweet. The corn meal itself was coarse, it had a nice grainy texture to it and these scrumptious little dumplings were fried up to just the right outer crunch. Knowing how to run a fryer, another Southern tradition mastered.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken
The BH had the Buttermilk Fried Chicken - which presented itself as lovely fat, hot strips of fried chicken filets in the most amazing batter. The chicken inside that batter was properly moist and tender, the outside crisp and hot from the fryer. Accompanied with a lush, velvety Tasso ham cream gravy, a bite of that fried chicken dipped in the peachy colored sauce was a bite of fried-food satisfaction. I sampled the ginger-vanilla sweet potato mash that was served on the side and it was likewise down south tasty. The Blue lake green beans however, were a bit overdone, but still well-seasoned.
Red Beans & Rice

I absolutely loved their Red Beans and Rice. When I was a kid, my grandfather used to do this thing with red beans. He’d cook ‘em for days with bacon and green onion. They’d melt into this heavenly paste of beanie, bacony, bee-liciousness. Whatever they’re doing here, they’re leaving it long enough to grow some serious flavors. Right on.

Our PFC had a bowl of Gumbo, which he kindly allowed me to taste. I found it peppery, with a hearty consistency and a lovely balance of seasonings — the andouille, tasso ham, & shrimp gumbo was served hot, which to him is a huge must. It was also really good. Another dish served up at Angeline’s that was authentic to the South.

We ended the meal by sharing a Bananas Foster Bread Pudding, w/Bourbon Whipped Cream. Just thinking about the flavors in that dessert right now is causing me to salivate. This may quite simply be the best bread pudding ever made, with the possible exception of the Bread Pudding Souffle at Commander’s. The “bananas foster” portion of this dish turned out to be banana cooked into the bread. Coupled with the traditional brown sugar caramelized into butter (a combination of liquid heaven which tastes like nothing else) the banana bread and the custard of the pudding, well, all of these mixed together made the very best pudding ever. I think I’m going back. Like now.

Bananas Foster Bread Pudding
So if you enjoy the rich, hearty flavors of the South, Check It OUT! Southern cooking is heavy, rich, savory and full-out. There is nothing held back in its preparation. It’s like life thrown at you full throttle served up on a plate. Rocks my world.   Bon Appetit! (and have fun ya'll)

Angeline’s Louisiana Kitchen
2261 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94704-1432
(510) 548-6900