“Cajun Inspired” food at Burial Brewery brunch.
On Sundays, in an odd tradition for a beer purveyor, Asheville’s Burial Brewery hosts brunches. I sampled their ‘Cajun-inspired’ offerings a few months ago.
The first thing I noticed was that children were running around and playing in the bar, in front of the bar, and outside in a play area as well as running through the bar and patio area where we were expected to eat. I am not the biggest fan of sharing public eating spaces with someone else’s children, particularly when they are unsupervised as most of these seemed to be, while their parents enjoyed their meals and beer.
It did not set the most favorable mood. I feel that people should not inflict the responsibility for their children’s supervision and safety onto strangers who are forced to do so by necessity. Children are too free spirited to be brought into most dining establishments, in my opinion. They cannot be still or use their “inside voices” and table manners reliably until eight or nine years old. A restaurant’s failure to eject inattentive parents of ill-behaved children automatically sets me in an irritable mood and inclined not to return to the restaurant again, no matter how delicious the food is.
We followed instructions to order our brunch food at the bar. On the menu was gumbo, red beans and rice, and a pork chop served over “boudain grits.” Gumbo is one of my most favored dishes, but I am accustomed to it running out quickly, so at the bar, I inquired if there was still gumbo left. I was assured there was, and paid for my meal.
I followed signs to an enclosed area where the chef and sous chef were preparing food in front of the patrons. There was, in fact, no gumbo left as I had feared, and I was forced to accept the less expensive red beans and rice, while my companion selected the pork chop over “boudain rice.” I was aggravated that after specifically inquiring about the gumbo that I was still disappointed, and left with the option of forcing my way up through children and beer drinkers to the bar to pay a couple more dollars for the pork chop or accepting the inferior option. The communication between the bar and chef should have been more consistent.
It seemed we waited (standing as there was very little seating) an extraordinarily long time, as the chef seemed to be quite behind in preparing. As a competent home cook, I can appreciate how a crowd could cause orders to back up, but the chef was only preparing one dish at a time despite the fact that he had several orders piling up and plenty of space on the grill for pork chops. The beans were already prepared, so I failed to understand how cooking one thick pork chop at a time on a griddle that could have supported eight or ten made any sense.
Because of these events, I was very annoyed before I even got my food. Once it arrived, I decided the theme of this experience was clearly “disappointment.” If this chef ever cooks again at Burial, I will be sure to steer clear.
I am well versed in Cajun food. Being a Native Texan, growing up literally a stone’s throw from Louisiana and the coast, I have made quick work of all manner of Cajun food prepared by actual Cajuns. It may be a high bar to set for North Carolinian chefs, but there are characteristics of Cajun food that are essentially Cajun. Altering their flavors makes them something else, not Cajun-inspired. You can alter some ingredients, experiment with preparation methods and presentation, but seasoning is one of the aspects of Cajun food that must not be tampered with and still carry the moniker of Cajun.
…which is why my palate was offended, assaulted with the food I was given.
“Red Beans and Rice” not so Cajun. My red beans and rice looked ordinary enough, with scallions on top. I have tasted many different recipes for the classically Cajun home cooking dish, but usually the beans are cooked with a bit of bacon, or andouille sausage, sometimes the ‘trinity’ of green peppers, onions and celery, seasoned with garlic and a bit of cayenne pepper and whatever else the chef deems appropriate and flavorful. Never, never ever, are the beans sweet.
Let me repeat for emphasis. Sweet. Red beans and rice.
I had to taste again just to be sure my palate wasn’t confused. They were disgustingly similar to baked beans out of a can you might be served at a barbecue or in a school lunch line. I was horrified that this would even be called ‘Cajun-inspired’ as I’m not sure which part of this was Cajun at all except for the name. I am not a picky eater, and I was hungry after waiting so long to eat, but I did not eat more than two or three bites of this awful dish.
Pork Chops and “Boudain Grits”Next, I sampled my companion’s dish. A thick pork chop sat atop collard greens and “boudain grits.” The pork chop itself was well prepared, rubbed generously with what tasted to me like Tony Chachere’s Cajun Seasoning. This is one of my favorite go-to mixes in my own home, so I enjoyed the pork chop’s flavor and texture very much. It was moist and tender. However, the collard greens were leaking green liquid all over the plate, and like the beans, they were actually sweet, cloyingly sweet and slightly undercooked, rough in texture. With each cut of the pork chops, the greens and grits squirted out below and mixed together, imparting the horrible sweetness to the grits as well and creating a mess on the plate. I managed to find a bit of grits not contaminated by the syrupy collard greens, wondering what boudain flavoring they applied. I could not detect any flavor but ordinary southern grits. I wasn’t sure how they planned to incorporate boudain in the first place, as classically it is rice, giblets and pork sausage encased in a sausage skin. There was no hint of giblets, sausage, or even Cajun seasoning in the grits. The pork chop was excellent on its own, but the rest of the dish failed to meet my expectations of ‘Cajun-inspired.’
A hint to the chef: when you prepare a dish inspired by a culture, especially one that takes is food and flavors as seriously as your average Cajun, it is generally the ingredients you alter, not the flavors. Please practice your Cajun food or learn more about the culture before you inflict this on your patrons again.
I assume that Burial contracts with multiple chefs or at least attempts different cuisines, so my review should not reflect negatively on Burial’s main pursuit of brewing beer. However, I would not be terribly inclined to drop another twenty on a meal served there without assurances that this chef was not the one wielding the spatula and that my experience would not be interrupted by unsupervised children.
Therefore, I give the chef (name unknown) one star, simply for knowing how to properly season and cook a thick pork chop. Burial gets three stars because the communication, children,and seating made the rest of my experience unpleasant. I did not sample their beer. I strongly recommend these issues be addressed if this brunch thing is a permanent fixture. Otherwise, if patrons want to treat it as a daycare while they get drunk at Sunday lunch, I’d rather leave them to their questionable practices and eat somewhere more friendly to people who are after a good meal.