At The Cheezy Cajun, a new restaurant and meat market on St. Claude Avenue, the cheeses of Wisconsin prove they can hold their own. Aged yellow and white cheddars are melted over potato tots; pepper Jack is liquefied and drizzled onto sandwiches; curds are fried until crispy and soft inside; and just about everything is sprinkled with some type of cheese.
Owners Michael Ducote and Doug Minich opened their Cajun-themed meat market and sit-down eatery in Bywater late last year, blending the influences of Acadiana (Ducote hails from Lafayette) and the cheeses of Wisconsin, to which both men have close ties. It's the latest in a series of butcher shop and restaurant hybrids, and all the Cajun trademarks are here, including a rotating mix of spicy boudin links, cracklings, smoked ham hocks and plastic containers brimming with pimiento cheese.
Despite the takeout appeal of what's in the display cases, the spot feels like a welcoming neighborhood restaurant. Dining is a casual affair. Butcher paper covers the tabletops, and meals are accompanied by the faint hum of refrigerators, casual banter at the bar counter and the soft background sounds of old-time country, Americana and honky-tonk.
As the name implies, cheese is featured prominently, and the owners take obvious pride in their Wisconsin connections, displaying blocks of sharp and aged cheddars, creamy blue cheeses and other varieties imported from the Badger State.
The fried cheese curds are excellent and could be in the running for New Orleans' best new bar snack. Yellow cheddar curds have a fried feather-light crust, and the crispy spheres arrive in a pyramid paired with ranch dip. With one bite, the lighter-than-air shell dissolves, giving way to a pillowy mass of melted cheese.
A strong Cajun theme anchors the simple menu of sandwiches and Southern-accented entrees. A pile of hot pink pickled onions and a dollop of whole grain mustard accompany very spicy, earthy boudin links.
The fried chicken sandwich arrives slathered in pimiento cheese in a dense, slightly sweet biscuit. The sandwich is served open-faced, topped with thick-cut, horseradish-spiked bread-and-butter pickles that add brininess to the rich dish.
At brunch, the deluxe bloody mary is the Cadillac of breakfast cocktails. Served alongside a pony of Miller High Life, the spicy drink is topped with pickled accoutrements — green beans, okra, olives, green onions — and a buttery and salty boudin ball.
A breakfast plate of beef debris and poached eggs features tough debris, but the straightforward dish is saved by golden-fried potato skins. Shaped like flower petals, hollowed out and crispy, the potatoes soak up the surrounding juices and egg yolk.
The kitchen does its best to lighten a menu brimming with heavy items, including offering a daily vegetarian selection and a few salads. The house salad features fresh, leafy greens dressed with herbs, tomatoes, pickled peppers and onions.
There isn't much in the way of dessert, but the cheese board ($12) offers a nice way to sample a daily selection of cheeses while also savoring a medley of house-made pickles and jellies. It serves as a good reminder that the cheese always can stand alone.