The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Stage - By Peggy Burch

/ burch@com­mer­cialap­

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.

Pho­tos by Mike Maple/The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal

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

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

Above: Gary Wil­liams cooks the ‘‘Big Easy’’ pasta dish. Left: De­JaVu restau­rant in its Mardi Gras gold and pur­ple.

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