Recently, Travel + Leisure named Creole Kitchen, an authentic Louisiana cajun-style, take-out spot on Columbus’ near east side, among their picks as one of the “Best Breakfast Restaurants in the U.S.” That, my friends, is a pretty big deal! It’s not a huge surprise for Columbus’ breakfasts to be featured in the national spotlight, since my pal Nick Dekker of Breakfast with Nick has recently helped to propel our city’s morning food scene towards iconic status across the country, being featured in several national newspapers and publications. But this one is a little bit different. Although they have been known to serve breakfast to up to 600 hungry people in a single Saturday morning, Creole Kitchen isn’t a restaurant that you really hear that much about. For some reason, they’re not a name many people throw out there when discussing the excellent regional U.S. cuisine that we enjoy in our city. But they should be.
Creole Kitchen has been on my list of restaurants to check out “some day” for a long time, but their recent nod from T+ L gave me a reason to be excited to find out what they have to offer.
Creole Kitchen was founded by Chef Henry Butcher in 2006, after having cooked for Columbus restaurant goers for over 30 years prior. He’s worked in the kitchens and been executive chef for some of the top restaurants in Central Ohio for decades. He opened the storefront spot in the Mt. Vernon Plaza to showcase his Louisiana Bayou cooking style and skills, and has been working as his own boss, in his own kitchen, ever since.
The restaurant itself is a tiny storefront spot that sits at the end of an old strip mall, and with not much visible signage out front to speak of, the shop is barely noticeable from the street. Once you pull into the parking lot, however, all you need to do is look for the crowd of people gathered outside, waiting for their food to be ready, to direct you to your destination.
Inside, the huge menu board welcomes you with open arms, and thrusts an impressive array of New Orleans-inspired fare at you right up front. It’s broken down into several sections, with the three main portions being “Breakfast”, “Entrees” and “Po Boys”, and features specialties like Seafood jambalaya, fried gator, tasso gumbo, fried catfish Creole, and of course, red beans and rice. Breakfast mixes a slightly milder variety of Cajun favorites such as andouille sausage omelets, a collard greens and pepper cheese quiche, and a creole eggs benedict, along with many typical diner breakfast plates like French toast, pancakes and breakfast sandwiches.
A whiteboard displays the daily specials, which they update for both breakfast and lunch. On the day I visited, their Whiting fish & grits special was the most expensive meal on the entire breakfast menu, at a still very affordable price of $7.00. The rest of their breakfast choices are all $6.00 and under, which is pretty unheard of these days. Their lunch and dinner entrees will set you back anywhere between $9 – $15, but still, a great deal for the quality and quantity Chef Butcher provides.
As I mentioned, the dining area is very small, with a total of four 2-seater tables. For years, most of Creole Kitchen’s orders have been from take-out customers, but that is about to change in the near future. Chef Butcher is expanding his restaurant from a small, in & out pick-up counter, to a full service, sit down restaurant. They are currently renovating the space next door and will be knocking out the far wall to feature a larger, more open dining room. I’m positive, with the amount of people I saw come and go in the short time I was there, that the new space will most certainly be packed frequently.
One of the things I always enjoy is when a restaurant has an open kitchen, as was the case here. It’s great to see the kitchen staff cooking your food hot and fresh. Chef Butcher and his son were hard at work on this morning.
I started with an order of the Beignets ($3.00). In case you’re not familiar, “beignet” is the French term for a pastry – basically fried dough, like a fritter, and traditionally served in New Orleans as a breakfast pastry topped with lots of powdered sugar. They’re traditionally prepared right before consumption to be eaten fresh and hot. These were unbelievably light and airy, with a slightly crispy outside. The powdered sugar added just the right amount of sweetness. These were so good!!
The Eggs Basin Street ($6.00) is the dish that was featured by Travel + Leisure, so I knew I wanted to try this one. It features a river of grilled andouille sausage and red beans flowing between two scoops of creole rice, and topped with two perfectly poached eggs and beamaise sauce. Ok, let’s break it down. First, the andouille was incredible. Spicy and flavorful, it was my favorite component of this dish. The red beans were very good too, but maybe a little thicker than I usually prefer. Nonetheless, they had really good flavor and paired well with the rest of the meal. The creole rice was really good, cooked nicely and seasoned well, with a little spice and a little cinnamon. The poached eggs were excellent, and the beamaise sauce on top was creamy and spicy in its own right. This dish had tons of complexity, tons of flavor, tons of texture, and absolutely tons of deliciousness!! Not to mention, the portions were enormous! All of their dishes are served to-go in a styrofoam container, and this container was so heavy that Mrs. Grub Guy could hardly handle it!!
We also went with one of their daily specials, the Whiting fish & grits, 2 eggs and toast ($7.00). The fish was a large plank of seasoned, cornmeal-battered Whiting, that was cooked very well. We eat a lot of fish at home, and the seasoned cornmeal tasted very similar to the stuff my wife makes – a recipe she learned from her grandmother, which is excellent!! It was flaky and hot, not overcooked. I’m not a big fan of grits, but the wife enjoyed them. The eggs were a little overdone (I asked for over easy), but were ok and still had a little runniness to the yolks. Overall, I much preferred the other dish to this one, but the wife liked it.
Outside, I snapped this photo of the signs that are up next door, announcing the (hopefully) soon arrival of Chef Butcher’s Creole Kitchen – a full-service dining establishment!!
I’m mixed on my feelings about this trip. The food was really excellent. The staff was friendly and didn’t make any of us feel like outsiders. I think I’ll wait to come back again when the larger dining room is open for business, so that I can enjoy more of Chef Butcher’s food in a relaxed, sit-down space. For what it is, and has been, the current set up works perfectly if you’re just looking to pick up and carry out. For a sit down experience, this isn’t it…yet. If you’re just itching to try it now that you’ve seen the goods, go for it! You definitely won’t be sorry. And don’t let the neighborhood deter you – everyone we met and talked to was friendly and welcoming.
I can certainly see why T + L picked Creole Kitchen was one of their favorites. With the quality of food that comes from the kitchen, and prices that can’t be beat, how can you not love it??
Creole Kitchen is located at 1052 Mt. Vernon Ave, Columbus, OH 43203 (Map). They’re open Monday – Thursday, 7:00 am – 7:00 pm, and Friday – Saturday, 7:00 am – 9:00 pm (breakfast served until 10:30 am). For more info, you can browse their website, or Facebook page.