Dining Spotlight: It's DejaVu -- with Creole soul

Little restaurant big on spicy allure

Gumbo (above) entices and a chicken sandwich (below) beckons at DeJaVu.  Vegetarian dishes include fried veggie rolls with curry-seasoned cabbage, carrots and raisins.

Photo by Mike Maple // Buy this photo

Gumbo (above) entices and a chicken sandwich (below) beckons at DeJaVu. Vegetarian dishes include fried veggie rolls with curry-seasoned cabbage, carrots and raisins.

The neighborhood around E.H. Crump Boulevard and Florida Street, south of Downtown, isn't a likely place to put a restaurant. On your way to DeJaVu, you pass through an industrial area devoted to scrap metal, ball bearings and beer distribution.

Any weekday finds a Downtown crowd at DeJaVu, drawn by crawfish étouffée, jambalaya, gumbo and bread pudding.

Photo by Mike Maple

Any weekday finds a Downtown crowd at DeJaVu, drawn by crawfish étouffée, jambalaya, gumbo and bread pudding.

Gumbo (above) entices and a chicken sandwich (below) beckons at DeJaVu.  Vegetarian dishes include fried veggie rolls with curry-seasoned cabbage, carrots and raisins.

Photo by Mike Maple

Gumbo (above) entices and a chicken sandwich (below) beckons at DeJaVu. Vegetarian dishes include fried veggie rolls with curry-seasoned cabbage, carrots and raisins.

Photo with no caption

Photo by Mike Maple

Gary Williams cooks the  ''Big Easy''  pasta dish.

Photo by Mike Maple

Gary Williams cooks the ''Big Easy'' pasta dish.

DeJaVu restaurant in its Mardi Gras gold and purple.

Photo by Mike Maple

DeJaVu restaurant in its Mardi Gras gold and purple.

Aside from its Mardi Gras gold-and-purple paint job, the clean brick building that houses DeJaVu is Spartan, probably chosen more for its affordability than its charm. So, the food had better be good, right?

The food -- a conglomeration described in the headline on the menu as "New Orleans Creole Soul Food and Vegetarian" -- is hearty, rich and spicy.

The little restaurant's fan base is diverse and growing. On a weekday, people dressed for work Downtown occupied the tables around us. Local moviemaker Kentucker Audley recently filmed a scene at DeJaVu, and Goner Records owner Eric Friedl was promoting the crawfish étouffée from a corner table on a recent Saturday afternoon.

The étouffée ($9.99 with two side dishes) was a well-made rice and crawfish stew, a healthy golden color with pepper spice that provided a satisfying after-sting on the tongue.

The jambalaya ($8.99 with two sides) with chicken and sausage is tomato-based, and the only complaint about it at my table concerned the cautious amount of sausage in the dish. The pork-and-rice-stuffed boudin was mild and pleasant.

One of the standout dishes we had at DeJaVu was the seafood gumbo ($7.95), which arrives with a decorative crab claw poking above the surface. I'm not sure I'd recognize a spoonful of sassafras in a sea of pepper spices, but my knowledgeable friend took one sip and pronounced it a filé gumbo. The stew was a meal, loaded with fish and sausage.

The only vegetarian dish we tried was the excellent plump fried veggie roll (you get two for $6), with curry-seasoned cabbage, carrots and raisins.

The vegetables we ordered separately were superior, including a clean and sweet dish of turnip greens and a bowl of "citrus spinach," a heap of fresh bright green leaves and stems with a hint of lemon.

Our fellow diners praised the peach cobbler, but we ordered the New Orleans bread pudding with whiskey sauce, which was so dense and rich it provided dessert for two more meals.

The restaurant, with Gary Williams working the kitchen and his son, Rondell Charles, at the front of the house, has been open nearly a year. The family hails originally from New Orleans' Eighth Ward, Charles said, but came to Memphis after stints in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

-- Peggy Burch: 529-2392

DeJaVu

Food:

Service:

Atmosphere:

Address: 936 Florida

Telephone: (901) 942-1400

Hours: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 6 p.m.

Reviewers' choice: Seafood gumbo ($7.95); Chicken and sausage jambalaya, ($8.99); Veggie rolls ($6)

Beverages: Tea and soft drinks

© 2009 Go Memphis. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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