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Bayou Cafe Freehold


Toady, once again, I found myself first in line to try something new. Although the Bayou Cafe has been in the area (Manasquan) for quite a while now, and this new space on 32 W. Main St. in Freehold has been open for dinner for a few weeks too, today was their first day serving lunch. So, at noonish, Mrs. Seal and I were seated and ready to eat.

First of all, even though I am more a foodie than remotely interested in decor, even I have to admit they did a really nice job on the place. From the purple and gold color scheme to the big, airy space to the welcoming music, this is not your typical Freehold joint. If I closed my eyes I could easily imagine I was somewhere on Bourbon St.

I must confess that I went into lunch really wanting to like this place. Heaven knows we need some varied cuisine in the area, and anything not Italian or Mexican or Chinese is most welcome. Still, I have my high standards, so, wishing aside, I was prepared for anything. Thank goodness the food was up to the challenge.

We started off by sharing a big bowl of Creole Gumbo. I am such a gumbo snob that even the Gumbo Shop in New Orleans didn't thrill me, so the mere fact that we finished the large bowl says something. The broth was redolent of seafood, even though I didn't notice any pieces of seafood amidst the copious pieces of meat and vegetables. There was also some meat, but not the usual spicy sausage, and a bit of okra. I might have wanted it spicier and thicker, but it was good and my spice-averse wife liked it too.

Next we shared a plate of Barbeque Shrimp and a plate of Brown Stew Fish. There were a good amount of medium size shrimp covered with a thick, butter-based sauce over rice. Again, I wanted it spicier, but my wife loved it as it was so I was glad it was mild. The Brown Stew Fish was also mild but flavorful and full with fresh veggies. I also liked the beans and rice that accompanied it. Together we finished every last bit of both dishes.

As full as we were, we had previously decided to try the Bananas Foster. Even though I had made us Bananas Foster French Toast for breakfast yesterday, I am glad we ordered it. It was really good. Two scoops of ice cream and a sweet brown sauce full of bananas - what's not to like? I was also glad there was no flaming the dish at the table touristy stuff ;o)

So now I am thinking about returning there next week to celebrate Mardi Gras. If it wasn't so soon I would even think about trying to organize a Hound Get-together. But, one way or another, I am sure I will be eating there again soon.

  1. Seal, sounds really tasty. Finally a reason to visit Freehold. The Gumbo, Brown Stew Fish and Banana's Foster have me hungry :)
    Nice central location for a possible hound get together.

    1. Great review Seal. Thanks. I will add it to my list.

      3 Replies
      1. re: bgut1

        we live in town and were just talking about going there for Mardi Gras. Was there any mention of it on your visit - special menu or anything? I just got the email from Drew's about their MG menu.

        1. re: mbw1024

          I don't know, most ethnic places just become totally in the weeds on their respective holidays. What I've learned: Go to Irish pub on Mardi Gras. Go to Mexican place on St Patric's day. Go to Cajun/Creole place on Cinco de Mayo.

          Valentines and Mothers day? Major ameture dining out nights everywhere. Stay home.

          1. re: mbw1024

            I was there last night, and was told they will be having a week long celebration with a buffet. They are also planning on having entertainment down the road. It's a great room, but with those high ceilings- I dunno.
            Also, they will be closed on Sundays and Saturday afternoons for private parties.
            The jambalaya and crawfish etouffe were both excellent, btw.

        2. Thanks for the review, seal. Although we've never been to the Manasquan location, we will definitely give Bayou in Freehold a try asap, given your "thumbs up" review, and the fact that it's so conveniently located for us. I'm sure Mr. R., the jambalaya addict, will immediately check that out to see how it compares to the excellent version at Drew's.

          I called Bayou in Freehold for additional info and was told that the menu is essentially the same as the one in Manasquan. They are open for lunch and dinner Monday - Friday, dinner only on Saturday, and as joslyn mentioned below, closed for public dining on Sunday.

          Freehold Tel.: 732-845-1800

          3 Replies
          1. re: RGR

            For what it's worth, I've had favorable experiences in Manasquan. This is much closer and I we will certainly be going. The BBQ Shrimp app is really good as was the Jambalaya. Drew's is way better but he is a tough act to follow.

            1. re: angelo04


              We had dinner at Bayou last evening. I'll be posting a more detailed review, but based on this first experience there, I definitely agree with your comment re: Drew's.

              1. re: RGR

                R - I can't wait to read your review. :)

          2. Do they have a liquor license ?

            2 Replies
              1. re: RGR

                Drew's is tops, no doubt.

                But, having a good restaurant in Freehold serving interesting food is a huge plus. And Chef Robert at Bayou is not just cooking Cajun/Creole, but also the food from Jamaica. Some Curried Goat, Brown Stew, Oxtail, etc. is nice to have once in a while.

            1. I took my family to Bayou Cafe last night. Having dined at the site's former occupants (Citrus and Della Solla), I am pleased to report that for the first time in my experience I wasn't the only customer in the restaurant. It appeared to me that Bayou Cafe has a customer base that is willing to travel from Manasqaun to Freehold on a Saturday night. When I left around 7:30 p.m., the restaurant was about 3/4 full.

              Before I get to the food, I must comment on the wonderful service and hospitality we received. I am not certain as to the woman's name, but I believe it was the hostess/general manager, Christina, who chatted with us throughout the night. She did an excellent job of making us feel welcome and was so appreciative that we had found the restaurant in its first weeks of business. She instilled such "good will" that I could instantly see why their customer base appears to be so loyal. The wait service, while young, were very personable and efficient. Also, on this night, there was a 3 piece band playing. The music was a bit loud for the big, open space the dining room occupies.

              Moving on to the food, I must preface that I am not a huge fan of cajun/creole food and don't eat it very often. With that said, I thought the food was good. Complimentary warm bread sticks with an oil based dipping sauce was promptly brought to the table. Accompanying the bread sticks were banana chips. Not dried banana, not plantains, but a rubbery banana chip.

              For entrees, we had the barbeque shrimp over rice, shrimp and andouille sausage over pasta, jerk chicken, and macaroni and cheese (kids order). We all enjoyed the jerk chicken the most, but it did not have the same "kick" as I've had in jerk chicken in the islands. The portion size was generous (breast, thigh and leg) with dirty rice and (stewed?) vegetables. The barbeque shrimp over rice was nice, but the sauce a bit on the sweet side for my taste. I liked the shirmp and sausage the least, but I wasn't surprised by that as I normally don't enjoy pasta dishes. My wife proclaimed the mac and cheese as "excellent". We ordered bread pudding and chocolate mousse for dessert (both homemade). The bread pudding was served with a traditional rum sauce and was good. The chocolate mousse was too sweet for me, but it was enjoyed by my kids. Prices were reasonable, with most entrees just under $20.

              I plan to return to try more of the menu (oxtail stew and brown stew fish piqued my interest). Plus, I already feel part of the Bayou Cafe "family". While comparisons to Drew's are probably inevitable (and have already started in this thread), I haven't been to both restaurants enough to draw any comparisons myself (been to each restaurant only one time).

              13 Replies
              1. re: jsfein

                Excellent review, jsfein! So glad to hear that the place was hoppin' -- though we'll definitely avoid going when the band's playing, since I recall that back when the space was Marielle's, we made the mistake of having dinner there when there was live music, and the noise level was insanely high (hellish noise levels being one of my restaurant peeves).

                The General Manager's name is Tara, and I totally agree about her very warm and welcoming personality.

                Are you absolutely certain those were not fried plantains? That's what we were served.

                1. re: RGR

                  RGR, I am not absolutely certain about the bananas/plantains. They did not seem like any plaintains I've had and didn't seem to be fried as they were completely rubbery. We were not told what they were and I didn't ask. Thanks for the GM's name. She was really terrific and clearly enjoys what she does. I should have also mentioned that each of the entrees came with a choice of soup or salad, We tried the chicken vegetable and gumbo soups and liked them both (although I agree with seal that the gumbo could have been spiced up a notch). We also had a salad which came with diced melon on top and a delicious house dressing. Still waiting for your take....

                  1. re: jsfein

                    Glad you enjoyed it jsfein.

                    I am certainly hoping they do well there as it is great to have some different food nearby. Do try the Brown Stew Fish btw, as it was a very nice take on the dish, as I suppose much of the Jamaican food on the menu may be, as Chef Robert is very knowledgable about the cuisine of the area.

                    1. re: seal

                      I have been reading Chowhound for a couple years now. I silently enjoyed reading many different reviews. I just moved from South Jersey to Monmouth County. I had no idea what a difference in restaurants' there are only a short few hours away! Now that I see how different everything is to me I think I want to share my opinions too.
                      OK so bare with me...it's my first review. :->

                      I was coerced by one of my good friends to try out what he claimed was his new favorite spot. I never thought I could ever be a big cajun fan, so I really didn't want to go.
                      What a huge misconception I had!
                      The Bayou Cafe was really a eye-opening experience for me!
                      The food was really good and the service was great and so friendly. Mike told me they haven't been open very long but last Saturday you wouldn't have been able to tell. It was packed and rocking with good vibes everywhere you looked.
                      The band was really a nice touch and the atmosphere was refreshing and vibrant.
                      To the food:
                      I had the BBQ shrimp app...awesome
                      Vegetable Soup also very good
                      Blackened Catfish was perfect...very flavorful
                      Bananas Foster...very good.

                      We are truly looking foward to going back and bringing my wife this time. I haven't lived in the area very long but the Bayou is definitely staying on my "short-list" of places to go.

                      1. re: stuffed_belly

                        Excellent review. Thank you and welcome to the board.

                        1. re: bgut1

                          Thanks. It seems a bit strange when I am reading my own. I hope people find them useful. Thanks again.

                            1. re: equal_Mark

                              Thanks...that seems to be a pretty comprehensive list. Saved into my favs.....thanks again.

                              1. re: stuffed_belly

                                Went last nite - WOW - wonderful meal - service spot on -
                                Breadsticks and fried plantains!!!!!!!!!

                                1. re: tuxedo

                                  What were your entrees, etc? I have this place on my "next to try" list

                                  1. re: charmel

                                    We had stuffed mushroom caps and a sampler for apps - the sampler had cajun popcorn ( crawfish bites ) bbq shrimp and cajun quesidillas - my girlfriend had the gumbo ( very good ) and I had house salad ( very good ) - my dinner was fried catfish with rice and sauted zucchini. she had the blackened tuna, same side dishes - everything was very good from start to finish!
                                    Bananas foster and chocolate cake to wrap things up ( recommended by both our waiter and the owner!!) We felt like we were in New Orleans - place had a great vibe to it..Will return soon! Want to try the oxtail next time!

                                    1. re: tuxedo

                                      Still have not tried this place yet, but drive past it every morning on the way to the office. Need to give it a try. Is it BYO? -mJ

              2. i tried bayou cafe this week and i have to say it did not meet the high expectations set by the above posts. the hospitality and service were wonderful, but the food left me wishing i had chosen el meson or ibby's instead. a brief recap:
                crawfish bites- ok- possibly cornbread batter
                cesar salad- good, sweet tasting, croutons did not taste homemade
                gumbo- ok, spicy in a good way, lots of unidentifiable pieces of meat, no recognizeable seafood
                bbq shrimp- favorite dish- very good, rich and unique, shrimp not overcooked, dh complained of crunchy pieces of rice, though
                jambalaya- disappointing, only 3-4 very small shrimp, good spice level
                we did not stay for dessert.
                pros: ambiance, friendly and professional service, nice wine glasses (for a BYO), bbq shrimp
                although our food was not to our expectations, we enjoyed ourselves, and we may return on a live music night and try some other dishes such as the blackened catfish.

                3 Replies
                1. re: njchowgal

                  Mushy fried plantains, soggy breadsticks that taste refrigerated, Watery tasteless gumbo, ceasar salads drowned in dressing with stale croutons, jambalaya tasted as if it was straight Franks Red Hot Sauce with a couple pieces of shrimp and sausage, crunchy rice and overcooked veggies.

                  Concept seems great for the Freehold area but lack of consistancy could bring big complaints.

                  1. re: LadyButterfly

                    My wife and I ate there Sat night. We got there around 8:30p and it was 1/2 - 2/3 full. The woman who greeted us was nice and pleasant. The first thing that struck us was the band in the corner. The music was very apropos albeit a bit loud so we sat next to each other at the table. Our waiter seemed a bit frantic all night, rushing to and from the table and forgetting our wine bucket until we asked a second time.

                    The food was good, but not great, there were hits and misses. As stated by others, we tried the bbq shrimp which was very tasty. Good spice and depth of flavor. Unfortunately, the appetizer contained 4 smallish shrimp and was stretching it for the $9 price tag. In hindsight, I should have taken a picture to show how silly the 4 shrimp looked on the medium sized plate. The house gumbo that came with the meal was good, no complaints.

                    For entrees we had the blackened catfish special with shrimp, sausage and a cream cheese sauce. The catfish, sausage and shrimp were all very good on their own, but the sauce was way too buttery and that flavor overtook the dish. Funny enough, the leftovers I had the next day tasted better as this flavor had mellowed. My wife had the oxtail stew which was very succulent and rich. The flavors were spot on and I couldn't stop reaching over to her plate while taking a break from my plate of "I can't believe it IS butter"! Lastly, the sides were a bit atrocious. Rice and beans at a New Orleans style restaurant should be a no brainer, but they failed miserably and tasted (and had the texture) as if they had been sitting around. The yellow and green zucchini were good because they had some of the oxtail sauce on them, not on their own.

                    I'm not trying to be overly negative, this was just our experience. We won't be going back anytime soon unless we hear things have turned around.

                    1. re: tojo

                      Been here several times. Last time I was there, I had the exact same experience as Tojo. Plantains were ok, but the breadsticks seemed "microwaved" and my jambalaya had a one-dimensional Frank's Red Hot taste to it.

                      On a prior visit, I ordered the blackened catfish, and I enjoyed it...so I'll stick with that. The oxtail stew is also delicious.

                  2. I have been totally remiss in not posting my review of Bayou Cafe. So, here goes....

                    We had dinner there in February, shortly after it opened, on a Tuesday evening. Before leaving our house, we called to make sure they would still be serving since it was fairly late, around 8:30 p.m. We were told they were. When we arrived, we received a warm greeting from Tara, the Dining Room Manager. No surprise that the huge space was practically empty -- only one other twosome finishing up their meal. No live music to contend with. However, I would never have considered going there when there was live music because back when Marielle's occupied this location, we had dinner there on a night when there was a live band, and the noise level was so unbearably high that it gave me a raging headache, to say nothing of making conversation between Mr. R. and me virtually impossible.

                    The meal began with the basket of plantain chips and two long, thin loaves of very pale bread. I thought the plantains were fine, but the bread was some of the worst I've ever had: mushy and bland, bland, bland.

                    Since a cup of gumbo came with the meal, we dispensed with ordering any appetizers. The gumbo arrived at the correct temperature -- hot. It was thick, with chunks of meat and veggies, nice flavor and spicy, but not over-the-top.

                    Mr. R. has a raging addiction to jambalaya at Drew's, so, naturally, he ordered Bayou's to see how it stacked up. The verdict? Drew has nothing to worry about! (Not that we ever thought he would.) Mr. R. said that while the Bayou version had decent flavor, it didn't have nearly enough kick for him, and there was too little in the way of shrimp and andouille sausage. I didn't taste it.

                    For my main course, I chose the Cajun Lamb Chops with Caramelized Onions. The chops, which were thick and meaty (not too much fat) were done as requested -- medium rare. Though they had good lamb flavor, I did not detect much, if any, Cajun spicing. The caramelized onions were mixed with red and green peppers, a tasty combination. Also on the plate were two good-sized steamed Red Bliss potatoes, which were serviceable enough. Everything was napped with a meat-based sauce. Overall, I'd say this dish was a slight cut above average.

                    For dessert, we shared the Bananas Foster. Lots of thick slices of caramelized bananas, a boatload of ice cream, some caramel sauce, and a mountain of whipped cream. Nothing to complain about there!

                    No complaints about service either. Our waitress, Jaime, was very pleasant and capable.

                    Cost for the meal before tax & tip: $48.16.

                    While the meal we had was not anywhere near being horrible (Iexcept for that bread!), neither was it in any way rave-worthy. Obviously, we haven't exactly rushed back, and based on this experience, when we're craving Cajun/Creole cuisine, we're sticking with Drew's. If we do go back to Bayou, since the chef/owner is Jamaican, we'll be ordering from the Caribbean side of the menu.

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: RGR

                      I'm really pretty upset over the decline of the overall experience...Bayou is somewhere I enjoy going. For those of you who only recently tried the Bayou...you should know that it wasn't always like that! I feel like people are looking at me like I am crazy for the great raves I was giving in my prior post. I swear that they were good at one time! I am also very hopeful that they will fix whatever they recently changed that is throwing them in a downward spiral! I'm not returning though until I hear some good stuff again.
                      On a seperate note:(Also posted elsewhere by me)
                      I finally tried Drew's a couple weeks ago as a result of many raves on CL & the fact that my "favorite" cajun place, Bayou, has seriously slipped in quality & service. I'm hoping it's temporary and they recover but the future now looks dim after the last month or so. I have to say that I was extremely pleased about Drew's and can see why people are always raving. I am glad I did try it because honestly I wasn't going to for awhile. In a battle today for best food...Drew wins.....In a battle 2 months ago I think either choice to eat at was a great one!

                      Just one more thing....after re-reading some of the latest post...I have to disagree about the reservations...I have never been turned away or ever had any trouble finding a seat immediately...weekend or not.

                      1. re: stuffed_belly

                        The more recent posts seem in line with our experiences with the Manasquan establishment. In fact, the story was much the same. The place opened with promise, excitement, and quite good food. Within a year it was pretty lousy. Is it possible that unless Robert is consistently in the restaurant, it suffers dramatically?

                        RGR - if the Carribean side of the menu in Freehold is anything like what we had last summer in Manasquan, consider yourself forewarned:


                        1. re: MGZ

                          Problem with that scenario was that for the first few years the Manasquan location was run by a different chef, Tim.

                          1. re: equal_Mark

                            I meant after the Lumley's bought it. We were there on the third or fourth night, not even knowing about the sale, and the food was better than on any other visit.

                          2. re: MGZ

                            Thanks, MGZ. Forewarned is definitely forearmed! :-) Frankly, unless and until I hear a boatload of more positive reports, we'll not be returning.

                            I should note that Chef Lumley was in the kitchen when we were there, but that still didn't make for an exciting meal. I suppose "promising" would be more accurate.

                            As for the current reports about the food's serious decline, we were told the Manasquan location would not be re-opening. So, why would he not be in Bayou's kitchen regularly?

                            1. re: RGR

                              I had been trying to grant them the benefit of the doubt. I liked the Lumleys when we met and hoped for the best. On our last visit, however, I was served a dish that looked and tasted like balsa wood, soaked in oil, and doused with random spices.

                              1. re: RGR

                                While googling I found the Manasquan location is for sale on craigslist.

                                It is going for $549K and it says that the business & equipment is not part of the sale. Sounds like they are getting rid of the property all together.

                                I don't understand why Chef wouldn't be more focused on what seems to be his only investment at least with a restaurant. Maybe a compromise conclusion would be that they just thought they could skate by off the the first months reputation judging from a combination of MGZ's & RGR's comments. What I mean is that judging from both sets of comments maybe this is just his Modus Operandi. Aside from just the food though it has lost something in the front also. It just doesn't feel as warm or welcoming or lively...I just don't know what it is...I don't get the same feeling anymore.

                                Again...I am not moving anywhere anytime soon...let's see if they recover! I hope so....maybe it's just the economy is hitting them hard and that's why corners are being cut off...I hope that the damage won't be too much for them.

                                1. re: stuffed_belly

                                  Just to be accurate, I never went to the Manasquan location, so my only experience with Chef Lumley's food was our one meal at Bayou.

                        2. I should have read farther in the posts! Being from the area, I was excited to see if I could avoid the forty five minute drive to Drew's.

                          After one of the worst meals I've had in Freehold (and not particularly cheap), I will not return. When I asked for something with a "kick", I was told to order the jerk chicken, which was lacked the spices and relied solely on the minor heat level. My spice-averse fiance ordered the lemon sole, which was so overpowered by lemon that the dish was almost inedible. The breadsticks and plaintains tasted out of a box, and poorly cooked even by those standards.

                          The waitstaff and hostess were pleasant enough but for food that poor, and considering some reliable options nearby, I can't imagine Bayou finding success on the local dining scene.

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: gwh912

                            My last dinner there sometime in mid March was just the same as my first experience there - good food but not hot enough for my taste. I think I had the house special dinner that included salad, appy, main and dessert and I remember enjoying my dinner.

                            If anything I am too hard to please. Most of my reviews here range from disinterested to scathing. Sometimes I think I am just much too critical.

                            So I have to say that I am not just surprised but shocked to see so much negatives here about Bayou Cafe. I think I need to get back there soon and see for myself if I think it has gone so far downhill.

                            Btw - has anyone had the Brown Stew Fish recently? I have been craving it and would like to think it is still the same.

                            1. re: seal


                              I have never thought of you as "much too critical." Rather, I have found your reviews to be quite fair in their judgments. I suppose that's because, for the most part, I tend to agree with you. And, frankly, I consider myself to be *extremely* hard to please. (For verification, have a chat with Mr. R. lol)

                              Our dinner at Bayou was about a month after your original post went up. As you can see, you had a much more positive opinion of the food than I did. So, if you do go back, I'll be very interested to hear what you think of it now.

                              1. re: seal

                                Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind. Dr Seuss

                                Keep Eating!

                                1. re: shabbystorm

                                  Ever the spot-on philosopher, that Dr. Seuss! :-)

                                  1. re: RGR

                                    Bayou Cafe....CLOSED indefinitely. What do you hope takes it's place?

                                    1. re: jontalx

                                      Chowhound's goal is to help people sort through their myriad chow options to find the most delicious food available to them. Speculation about what we might like to see in the food scene in an area is off topic for our boards. SInce Bayou Cafe is closed, we're going to lock this thread.