I am not sure why chef Paul Martin came to Philadelphia, but I am sure glad he did. He brought tasty authentic Louisiana cooking to Queen Village-based Catahoula, Strangelove’s and now Mamou.
He grew up in Lafayette, La. When The Corner, on South 13th Street, closed for renovations, it was christened Mamou in honor of the small town outside Lafayette.
The interior has few changes. The white trim around the room is now a tantalizing red, but the soft lighting and great music on the sound system prevail. Bring on Ray Charles.
I did not know happy hour was in full swing until our server told us there were three wines ($5 a glass) available along with several appetizers. A glass of French Champagne put me in the proper mood in order to enjoy party-in-the-mouth Cajun fare. Edward sipped a martini ($9) made with Gordon’s gin.
Crawfish fritters ($6 at happy hour) were fried to a crisp golden brown on the outside and creamy inside. They were served on a pool of ravigote sauce that I suspect contained some Creole mustard. Caper berries were added for a bit of salt.
Pimento cheese ($5 at Happy Hour) is a staple throughout the South. Cheddar cheese, cream cheese and minced pimentos were whipped into a smooth spread, placed in a glass jar and served with pickled vegetables (hello, okra) along with homemade cornmeal crackers. The little wooden spoon reminded me of the ones one would get with a Dixie cup of ice cream.
Fried oysters are another hallmark of Southern fare although Philadelphians have loved them since Colonial times. Martin’s version ($11) was a triumph. He carefully fried about eight bite-size oysters and set them on a sauce. It was a cream sauce laced with Pernod, bits of tasso, a ham that hails from Louisiana, some tomato for sweetness and topped it off with microgreens. Martin has an amazing hand when making smooth well-balanced sauces for all his dishes.
If there is one dish people identify with New Orleans and most of Southern Louisiana, it is gumbo. Martin’s roux is the color of dark walnut. It is rich, hearty and thickened with file. I’ve tried his duck gumbo, but this one was made with chicken and andouille sausage for brightness of flavor. The stock was homemade and tasted slightly smoky. A timbale of perfectly cooked long-grain rice sat in the center of the gumbo. At $6 a cup, it easily served two. The large bowl made for easy enjoyment.
There are a number of recipes for spoon bread in the South, but its base is always cornmeal. It is more akin to a pudding. Sometimes it puffs up like a soufflé. The chef’s spoon bread ($5) consisted of a classic recipe with eggs, seasonings and yellow cornmeal that he baked in a casserole and then cut into squares. The individual cast-iron skillet was smoking hot as was the spoon bread. It had a slight sear on the bottom, and all it required was a sprinkle of salt.
A glass of chardonnay ($5 at happy hour) and a can of Sly Fox pilsner ($3 at Happy Hour) went well with a shrimp po’boy and red snapper entrée. There is a special soft Italian-like bread in New Orleans that serves as the vessel for fried catfish, oysters or shrimp. I opted for the fried rock shrimp ($12) that consisted of a pile of small sweet shrimp, perfectly seasoned and fried. The bread was first covered in remoulade, the classic sauce for this sandwich, the shrimp were placed inside and topped with lettuce and juicy red ripe tomatoes. I enjoyed the homemade potato chips included on the plate. My only negative comment was Martin toasted the bread, which imparted an unpleasant texture to my taste.
Gulf red snapper ($25) was Southern Louisiana on a plate. It was seasoned and seared before it met the uncommonly good smooth sauce that added flavor and texture. It was a fricassee of crawfish to which a confit of leeks was added, some small heirloom cherry tomatoes and a puree of butter beans. The leeks were cooked to an almost melted consistency that brought out their sweetness. The fish was perfectly seared and not one bit overcooked.
For those who love the food of Southern Louisiana, Mamou, which offers outdoor dining and a roof deck, is for you.
Three-and-a-half tips of the toque to Mamou.
102 S. 13th St.
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