Co-owner Jeff Halaby says the words “Creole” and “Cajun” are often used interchangeably when referencing the food served at Louisiana Purchase. Even though the cooking styles both have French influences that date back more than 200 years, to a time when Louisiana was a French colony, they’re still very different, he says. And the restaurant serves both styles in a variety of ways.
On first inspection, the alligator kabob could pass for — you guessed it — chicken. But the taste is all its own; and it’s Cajun-inspired. The tender pieces of sweet and spicy mango-soaked meat are on a skewer that sits on black beans. It’s clearly a dish specific to Louisiana, but it’s influenced by descendents of the Acadians, who originally came from France, lived for a time in the Maritimes and then moved to Louisiana, where they developed their own dialect and culture.
Cajun dishes tend to be down-home, hearty meals, often in stew-form, the jambalaya being a prime example. At Louisiana Purchase, the dish is a melting pot of flavours with ham, chicken, smoked pork sausage, peppers and jumbo shrimp, all atop tomato-infused rice with a spicy side of tequila salsa.
Meanwhile, Creole dishes, says Halaby, reflect high-end French cooking with some influences from Spain. The baked scallops are an example. It might be a small dish, but the flavour and presentation are unforgettable. Hot rock salts line the plate, and a few scallops come in a shell with potato — the perfectly cooked scallops are infused with the freshness of ginger. The crab cakes are equally decadent, with a thick, creamy sauce that pairs perfectly with the sweet meat.
But it’s the Cajun-style blackened catfish that’s my favourite, and the most well-known — it was one of the dishes served on the Food Network’s You Gotta Eat Here. The large portion of fresh-water fish has a spicy kick and the accompanying pea shells, cherry tomatoes and squash are full of butter and subtle flavours. (10320 111 St., 780-420-6779, louisianapurchase.ca)