May 21, 2015
A few seconds after my jambalaya hit the table, Mike Catalan burst from the kitchen with a spring in his step and a gigantic jar of green sauce in his arms.
"Dis hee-yuh is duh chow chow," he smiled, cranking his Cajun accent up to 10. "Haw much-oo wan?"
He tipped the unlidded chow-chow jar to my nose. I breathed in the vinegar, the fresh cayenne peppers minced into some hellish version of relish, and I spat out my answer almost unconsciously: "All of it!"
Those three words are the answer to most any question Catalan, the charismatic, hot-sauce slinging Louisiana native and chef-owner of A Cajun Bowl in Cape Coral, may ask: Do you want the beef, pork or seafood jambalaya? Do you want your po' boy with shrimp or crawfish? What else can I get you?
All of it. All of it. ALL OF IT.
A Cajun Bowl opened late last summer on the west-facing side of a small plaza across from Fuccillo Kia of Cape Coral on Pine Island Road. The dining room is a handful of mismatched tables, some stools, and Catalan serving as host, busboy and blues/Zydeco DJ.
He cooks all the food at A Cajun Bowl, infusing each dish, each side, each scratch-made condiment with the flavors and culture ingrained in him while growing up in Lafayette and Carencro, towns steeped in Louisiana's Cajun lore.
My first taste of Catalan's work came in the form of gumbo, a beguiling gumbo thickened by a deep, dark roux and flecked with shreds of chicken, Andouille and the spicy ham his folks call tasso. He serves it with a sprinkle of white rice, and creamy, homemade potato salad. Wait. Potato salad and gumbo? That's how Catalan's Mom Mom did it, so that's how A Cajun Bowl does it, too.
That potato salad accompanies most every dish here. It's a common thread uniting the hearty, soul-stirring red beans and rice with the etouffee, and those four styles of jambalaya.
You could toy with the idea of a just-beef or just-pork or just-seafood jambalaya. Or skip the tomfoolery and order Johnny's Jumpin' Jambalaya. The JJJ combines all the meaty glories in A Cajun Bowl's arsenal — beef strips, pork chunks, wee wedges of Andouille, itty-bitty crawfish tails, shrimp, crabmeat, smoked sausage — in a tomato-tinted fluff of perfect rice.
No two bites are the same, but every bite is delicious.
Crawfish etouffee was a seasonal menu item that recently became permanent, the bite-sized tails smothered in a rich tomato sauce, its brazen heat softened by a faint touch of cream.
Heaped into the widest part of one of those three-section takeout boxes (or, as Catalan calls it, his Bayou China), you think there's no way you'll finish it all. Then theZydeco music kicks in, you find a groove, and the box is empty.
Visit on a quiet lunch and Catalan may regale you with stories of life in the bayou, of making boudin with his grandfather, and boiling huge pots of crawfish at a roadside gas station a half-dozen miles outside of Breaux Bridge.
Then he'll excuse himself and disappear behind the counter to do the dishes. You'll want to stay and hear more stories, taste more chow chow, talk more blues. But you leave, confident Catalan and his Cajun Bowl will be just as good when you come back.
A Cajun Bowl
303 NE 3rd Ave., Cape Coral
Hours: 4-9 p.m. Monday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, closed Sunday
Noise level: Moderate to loud, in a laissez-les-bon-temps-rouler style
Etc.: Soft drinks and iced tea only, takeout and delivery available
Sample of the menu
Soups and smaller plates
- Red beans and rice, cup, $5
- Uncle Calvin's Cajun sliders, $5
- Gumbo, $8
- Shorty po' boy with shrimp, $8
- Sydney's Seafood Jambalaya, $10
- Crawfish etouffee, $16
August 30, 2014
We asked our food critic to come up with a list of favorite local dishes. JLB slimmed it down to these 101.
It seemed like a simple question: What's the best thing I've eaten in Southwest Florida?
101 answers later... not so simple.
This list is based as much on deliciousness as it is on how recently I've been to any given restaurant. That means it leans more to Lee County than Collier, because that's where I eat most of my meals.
I didn't include drinks on the list — it's crazy enough as it is. And I couldn't include things I've never eaten, no matter how amazing they might be.
That said, I eat like it's my job (which it is), and I racked my brain to try and make sure no obvious dishes were left behind. But I'm sure some were, so feel free to add your own Best Dishes in the comments.
"• Etouffee — A Cajun Bowl, Cape Coral: It’s not about the crawfish or the deeply savory, roux-thickened gravy. It’s about Louisiana and family and soul."
August 29, 2014
Fantastic food and fantastic staff! I am absolutely addicted to the jambalaya and I make sure to visit a few times a week. Everything is very reasonably priced and the food is very fresh, but also the place is very clean and has such a warm atmosphere.
August 29, 2014
Went to A Cajun Bowl last Friday and this was the best Cajun food I've eaten in quite a few years. I lived in LA for most of my life and grew up eating this food. The gumbo tastes just like the way my grandmother used to make. I felt like a child back in her kitchen. The staff was very friendly. The owner made me feel like family. I will definitely be back again!!
, FL 239-673-6383
Lee County Florida's first authentic cajun and creole food truck. Flavorful dishes with just the right amount of spice. Servicing Cape Coral, Fort Myers and surrounding Lee County areas, as well as Port Charlotte and other counties in Florida. We're on the road now, sha!