Home & Garden Columns

Restaurant Review: Way Down Yonder on Shattuck Avenue

By B. J. Calurus, Special to the Planet
Friday October 06, 2006

There was a time not too long ago when “Jamabalaya” was just a Hank Williams song. The rich cuisine of southern Louisiana—Cajun, Creole, and their hybrid offspring—wasn’t well known outside the region. Then, as fiddler Michael Doucet recalls, 

“Paul Prudhomme burned a fish, and everything changed.”  

You can get blackened fish (not the canonical redfish, though) as a weekend special at Angeline’s Louisiana Kitchen in downtown Berkeley, but there’s a lot more going on there. The place was a long time opening, and I had hopes that it would fill at least part of the gap left by the closing of A La Carte, my old standby for crawfish étouffée and bread pudding. Happily, I was not disappointed. Angeline’s gets it right. 

I knew there was a reliable hand in the kitchen with my first taste of gumbo ($12.95 for a sizable bowl, $5.95 for a cup). It had the richness and smokiness that could only be founded on a serious dark roux. Although the promised crab was not detectable, the bowl was full of Bay shrimp and chunks of andouille sausage, and okra was a discreet presence. 

Jambalaya, one of those dishes with as many recipes as cooks, may trace its ancestry to Spanish paella and West Africa’s jollof rice. Angeline’s version ($13.50) was even better than the gumbo. It was generously studded with andouille, chicken, and tasso (hardwood-smoked pork), and it needed no help from the bottle of hot sauce on the table. There’s also a vegetarian version with wild mushrooms ($12.50). 

Among other Louisiana classics, red beans and rice ($10.95) is a Monday special. Boudin, the pork-and-rice-stuffed sausage from the western prairie region of Cajun country, is available either as a starter ($4.95) or accompanied by hot links in a “Cajun mixed grill” ($14.95). Crawfish ´etouffée has appeared as a weekend special. You can also get regional specialty sandwiches: several variants of the po’ boy (catfish, shrimp, oyster, and fried chicken) or muffuletta, New Orleans’ answer to the hero. 

The menu isn’t purely Louisianan: there are pan-Southern items like fried catfish, a pasta dish, dinner salads. We couldn’t resist trying the catfish ($10.75), which was near-perfect: filets deep-fried in a thin cornmeal crust, served with creditable hushpuppies (on the sweet end of the hushpuppy continuum, but that’s all right) and a remoulade-based potato salad. “Small plate” options include fried oysters Bordelaise ($10.95), also not particularly Cajun or Creole, but delectable.  

Angeline’s chef, who hails from Baton Rouge, also does himself proud on the dessert end. The beignets ($3.95)—hot pillows of sweetened dough, traditionally eaten with strong coffee after a long night in the French Quarter—were almost weightless. We’ve also been impressed by the bread pudding with caramelized banana ($5.50) and the pecan pie ($5.50), which we were told was the third revision of a work in progress.  

The restaurant’s space, which formerly housed a noodle place, has been redone with pressed tin on the walls, ironwork, and a huge map of 19th-century New Orleans. Music from the owner’s collection is usually playing: jazz, zydeco, Cajun. The gumbo in particular went well with Clifton Chenier’s “Black Snake Blues.” 

If Angeline’s had its liquor license, it would be a great place to sip a Sazerac. For now, there’s iced tea (optionally sweetened) and lemonade. And the restaurant still seems to be in shakedown mode: one of our orders got lost in the shuffle on a recent visit, although the house made up for it by comping dessert. That aside, this place is well worth a visit. It’s clearly a labor of love, run by people who know and respect Louisiana’s culinary heritage and present it without compromise. Hurricane-battered southern Louisiana may still be down, but it’s important to keep the good times rolling wherever you can.  



Lunch 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Saturday. 

Dinner 5:30-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5:30-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday. Credit cards OK.  

2261 Shattuck Ave. (near Bancroft Way). 548-6900.