"Lagniappe" is French-Cajun for "a little something extra," like a baker's dozen, and that seems a fitting name for this casual Southern place on Northeast Broadway. Lagniappe joins the more upscale Acadia on Northeast Fremont Street, both restaurants dishing up wallops of something extra to Portlanders hungry for the spicy flavors of Cajun and New Orleans cuisine.
At Lagniappe, Madison Ragland-a good old boy with Paul Prudhomme-esque girth and bayou tap roots-serves up the real thing on his mesquite log smoker. With a counter and four tables, linoleum floor, big lazy ceiling fan, continuous swamp music and soul to burn, Ragland's place has all the right ingredients for low-rent authenticity and terrific down-home cooking.
So what's lagniappish about Lagniappe? The extra comes in the way of huge portions: A gargantuan bowl of creamed artichoke soup ($6.50) arrives rich with a mother lode of oysters, while a football-sized po' boy sandwich ($9) oozes enough oysters to dribble down your chin. A heaping platter of fried crawfish tails on a bed of lettuce makes for an ideal salad ($6.50), the crispy chunks of the crustacean aided by several varieties of hot sauce.
The overflowing gumbo ($5) is marvelous and filling, with a pungent peanut roux base, thickened with okra and file (a powder of dried sassafras leaves), and chunked with chicken and garlicky andouille sausage. Cajuns have been known to throw squirrel and armadillo into the gumbo pot, but this less exotic mix still offers enough rich flavor for us Northwesterners.
The beef brisket is dry rubbed and smoked, tender but not too fatty (sandwich 7.25, plate $9.75). But Lagniappe's most seductive main course is its chili-infused jambalaya ($9); the sausage-and-chicken stew coats the rice with a thin layer of oil for a delectable flavor.
Best of all, though, are the fabulous desserts. You could fall in love over the pecan tart ($4.50); This tart's creamy filling is suffused with orange flavor powerful enough to perfume the table. The bread pudding ($4.50) is loaded with bourbon and laden with butter and cream-the best example I've tasted outside the famed version of Commander's Palace in New Orleans.
The Southern cooking is more refined at Acadia, a romantic spot with snappy red table cloths, subdued lighting and gleaming votive candles.
The extra here comes by way of the seafood flown in fresh from the Gulf. It's served in such appetizers as a succulent flash-fried crab ($9.95), whose crunch is pure sensuality in the mouth, and an amazing warm seafood mousse bursting with shrimp, crawfish, and crab pâté ($6.50), offering just a hint of heat and the sure shock of sea freshness. Plus there's a house specialty, New Orleans-style shrimp, a spicy quartet of giant prawns doused in housemade BBQ sauce with a sprinkling of white wine and lemon ($10.95), and the perfect shrimp-fat sauce for dipping bread.
If there's a regret, it's that there aren't more oyster dishes. But seafood cravings can be satisfied with the elegant shrimp stuffed with crawfish and layered on a slice of smoky fried eggplant ($17.75), or the Gulf redfish, called Louisiana drum ($17.50), that's brushed with mustard and sauteed to a bronze sheen. An outstanding, massive grilled pork chop ($18.95) combines a wood-smokey aroma with maple sweetness.
In Portland, we're far from the brackish waters of Louisiana's coastal wetlands, the southern lakes, the salt waters of the Gulf and the subtropical climate, but both of these restaurants keep Cajun traditions alive and well. And while that cuisine dazzles with its near-excessive conglomeration of ingredients, spices and flavors, what recommends both restaurants is the something extra they deliver.
These spots remind me of the happiest example of an artistic lagniappe I know, which comes from Manet, the French post-impressionist. When the artist was commissioned in 1880 to produce a still life, Manet produced a charming painting of 20 stalks of plump white asparagus tied in a bundle. Manet thought he was overpaid but instead of refunding a portion of the fee to Charles Ephrussi, his patron, the artist simply painted another, smaller canvas. He sent off the painting of a single stalk of asparagus with a note: "I'm sending this to you because you're missing one stalk from the bundle." Manet's little something extra was a lagniappe now worth millions.
3445 NE Broadway, 249-7675. 11:30 am-8 pm Tuesday-Thursday, 11:30 am-9 pm Friday, noon-9 pm Saturday. Credit cards accepted. Children welcome. $ Inexpensive.
PICKS: Po' boys, gumbo, jambalaya, beef brisket, bread pudding, pecan tart.
Acadia 1303 NE Fremont St., 249-5001. Lunch 11:30 am-2:30 pm Wednesday only. Dinner 5-10 pm Monday-Saturday. Credit cards accepted. Children welcome but seldom seen. $$ Moderate.
PICKS: Creole shellfish rillettes, New Orleans BBQ shrimp, soft-shell crab, shrimp Acadian, Chartres Street pork chop