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Somethin' Else Cafe

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Somethin' Else Cafe serves up Cajun and Creole dishes, like this plate of chicken etouffee. - PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
  • Photo by Cheryl Gerber
  • Somethin' Else Cafe serves up Cajun and Creole dishes, like this plate of chicken etouffee.

Self-proclaimed bayou boys from Houma, Blaine Prestenbach and Craig Walker originally planned to open Charcoal's Gourmet Burger Bar (2200 Magazine St.; www.charcoalsgourmetburgerbar.com) in 2006. But obstacles ranging from problems with contractors to construction red tape slowed the process.

While Charcoal's construction was on hold, Walker suggested he and Prestenbach open a restaurant in the French Quarter at the corner of Conti and Exchange Place. Coming up with a name, after having a detailed business plan already in place for Charcoal's, was tiresome. "When we were having conversations about the name, we kept saying, 'It's got to be somethin' else,'" Walker says. "Blaine was like, 'Dude! Let's name it Somethin' Else!' That was it, it was perfect." Once the duo acquired the run-down building — which had housed nine different businesses over five years — they painted the walls, built new cypress tables, removed the video poker machines and added a picture window. "Believe me, we had everyone coming and saying we were crazy and that ... no one could make it here," Walker says. "Those same people are the people who eat here at lunch and breakfast."

Somethin' Else Cafe (620 Conti St., 373-6439; www.somethinelsecafe.com) opened in 2009 serving traditional Cajun dishes made with Louisiana ingredients, including popcorn rice, brown jasmine rice, cheese and rice grits from Houma. "You get a lot of transplants who come here to be chefs and they pick up on what's going on and start trying to change stuff up," Prestenbach says. "It's like, look, jambalaya don't have a black bean in it. You can't do that — what are you trying to do?"

Popular dishes are the egg-in-the-hole, chicken-fried biscuits, jambalaya (brown, never red), roast beef and bread pudding. Customers have included Mos Def, who bought whole sweet potato cheesecakes, and Lauren Conrad, who Tweeted about the file gumbo and the made-from-scratch alligator corn dogs. The Beach Boys, CNN's Anderson Cooper and Susan Sarandon have also dined at the cafe.

  All the food is fresh — even the mint that garnishes glasses of iced tea — and the one freezer on the premises houses only ice cream. If the produce doesn't come from Prestenbach's garden, it's likely from a vegetable stand deep in Cajun country. "I do what I call the Bayou Shuffle," Prestenbach explains. "When you're heading down the bayou, you pull up on these little vegetable stands and I'll just buy them out. Then I bring it all back."

All the food is fresh — even the mint that garnishes glasses of iced tea — and the one freezer on the premises houses only ice cream. If the produce doesn't come from Prestenbach's garden, it's likely from a vegetable stand deep in Cajun country. "I do what I call the Bayou Shuffle," Prestenbach explains. "When you're heading down the bayou, you pull up on these little vegetable stands and I'll just buy them out. Then I bring it all back."

Six months after opening Somethin' Else, the duo realized other small business owners shared their need for affordable local meat and seafood. In response, they opened Vieux Carre Seafood and Meats. It services their cafe, as well as Felix's, Sylvain, Tony Moran's and Killer Poboys. "Chefs can just come and pick out the shrimp ... and they don't have to buy 30 pounds of it; they can get a pound if they want," Walker says.

The Travel Channel's Food Paradise recently featured boudin balls from Vieux Carre Seafood and Meats. For two boys born and raised on the bayou, the success of their native cuisine is a dream come true. "We were just astonished to see the feedback once we opened," Walker says. "This has been a blessed, blessed establishment."

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