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.
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
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