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Aug 10, 2009 09:55 AM

Mama Roux

Mama Roux: the return of Michael and Yoli Amr; and the return of good – no, GREAT – Louisiana-style cooking to the Austin area. They've been open about a month. The GF and I went over the weekend for dinner. But first some background: This is the couple that started with Gumbo’s, up on Bratton Lane, maybe 15 or more years ago; expanded to a second location, and sold them both (and Gumbo’s is still in existence, downtown; while I don’t want to characterize what happened to Gumbo's after it changed hands, I’ll just say that Mama Roux is, to my taste, much better); started a couple other ventures through the years, with variations on the name Yoli; and then ducked out of sight for a couple of years. Years in which they were sorely missed, at least by some.

So now they’re back, in the same little brand-new strip mall area as Ho Ho, near the Wal-Mart at I-35 and Parmer. Don’t let the undesirable neighborhood and soulless environs deter you: this is the real deal. We started with a couple of beers and a cup of seafood gumbo. This is exactly what gumbo should be: a dark roux, in which the trinity has dissolved… merged… into a heavenly broth that is much more than the sum of its parts; a few pieces of okra; some good smoky Andouille sausage; and loads and loads of crawfish, shrimp, crab, fish – these critters were not swimming, because they were too crowded in for that. All over a scoop of white rice. Oh, and the ‘cup?’ It’s a bowl, make no mistake. Can’t imagine how big the ‘bowl’ on the menu is; we split the cup, and it was enough for an appetizer for both of us. But it did what good gumbo does for you: makes you want to keep eating it long past the point of satiety, makes you want to lick the bowl for every last delicious drop. The GF, raised in Louisiana, so she’s got some cred, concurs emphatically.

Next up was the Catfish Mama for me, and the swordfish special for the GF. Catfish Mama is a blackened fillet topped with shrimp and crawfish tails in a spicy cream sauce. Perfectly cooked so that the fish had a nice crispy crust, but was still moist and tender, and perfectly seasoned. Dirty rice and Cajun cabbage on the side, again, I couldn’t stop eating, even though by this time I was really quite full indeed (and I’m not a little guy, by any means). Swordfish special: two good-sized swordfish steaks, (OK, this was probably a fluke; the waiter mentioned that there were only two swordfishes left; and one piece was a bit smaller than the other; so I’m guessing Michael, who does the cooking (ok, another side note: why this place is consistently good is because Michael not only creates the dishes, he also really does do the cooking, for every dish. You WILL see him in the kitchen, actually cooking. Small place, maybe 20 tables, and he keeps it that way so he and a couple of helpers can handle the whole thing) decided to just throw them both on the plate. That’s the kind of guy he is.) blackened and topped with sautéed shrimp; again, perfectly cooked, avoiding the common, tragic fate of swordfish, the dreaded dryness: no, none of that here. It was goooood. Dense, fresh, perfectly seasoned, very satisfying.

This is not frou-frou food; it’s simple, hearty and delicious. The menu leans heavily toward seafood, but chicken, steak, salads and pasta make appearances as well.

The GF couldn’t finish her sword, so we got it boxed up to go. Dessert was out of the question. Well, OK, I was in a good enough mood by that time to let my arm be twisted, so we got one to go: the strawberries and cream. Better than it sounds; I’m not really sure what made it so good – dessert is not really my thing, and I hardly ever order it; this was just perfectly fresh and perfectly balanced – not too sweet, a hint of vanilla to complement the fresh berries; it was really good, the next morning for breakfast. The waiter was also pushing the Tabasco cheesecake, which does sound intriguing. It’s now on the list….

Service was friendly and good. The only false note was when a fill-in waiter was covering for our regular waiter and took our drink order – and described the Abita Jockamo as a double bock, when it turned out to be an IPA. OK, he’s not a beer guy; the regular waiter was (we had a conversation about IPAs and Double IPAs and beyond…). And since I like IPAs anyway, there was no harm done.

This is the real deal, folks. Go. Meet Yoli, if you haven’t already (that’s a whole ‘nother story) and have some of the best food you’ll ever taste.

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  1. The hubby and I also hit up Mama Roux on Saturday night. Overall it was a good experience. Not mind blowing, but we'll definitely go back.

    The main problem that I had was the service. I think we got the "fill in" waiter you mentioned above. He never described the specials to our table (I didn't even know these existed until I heard one of the more seasoned wait staff members describing these to another table). He also did not know the beer menu AT ALL. While Fat Tire was on the drink menu, when the hubby ordered it, he was wishy washy...not knowing if they actually ahve it. When he returned 5 minutes later to the table, he reported that they did not sell this beer. Odd? Perhaps they should reprint their beer list to reflect their actual offerings. Overall, he was just a slow waiter, and other waiters were always delivering drinks, food or other things.

    The food was very good. We started with the crawfish popcorn, which was lightly fried and very well seasoned with a nice tart aioli dipping sauce. We really liked this. I then ordered the Catfish Mama (Bat Guano's right the portions are HUGE and I could barely eat half). The crawfish and shrimp in the sauce was very generous, plentiful and large sweet shrimp. And the portion on the sides (cajun cabbage and red beans and rice) was also a lot. While everything was good, by midway through the meal everything started to taste the same. I was wishing for a little more distinction between the seasoning and flavors. But for the price and the portions sizes, I enjoyed it. Hubby had the Salmon Le Roux. As he put it, you can't argue with salmon wrapped in prosciutto, but he wasn't blown away, the salmon was a little more well done than he prefers. He also wasn't a cabbage fan but didn't want to double up on the starchy sides. Perhaps making a dinner salad an option for a side would be a good improvement.
    I think this place has a future, especially with the predominance of chains in the the area. And, most tables were full at 7pm, usually a good sign. I think with some tweaks here and there they could be great. I never ate at the couple's other restaurants, so I can't compare. But, it's nice to have an affordable place in the hood with fish dishes.

    1. Thanks for the reviews. I'll have to try this place out. I remember when Michael and Yoli were on Bratton may years ago, but I never liked their food all that much at the time; 'real' Cajun food doesn't have to be so hot you can't eat it (like the imitations are so wont to do), but their food always was. I'll have to give them another try to see if I like it better this time around.

      4 Replies
      1. re: danny_w

        Nice to see Batguano and ashes flexing with some seriously detailed reviews.

        Please describe the interior layout of the room.

        How's the ambience?

        Is there a bar with a bartender on duty?

        Lots of spirits and/or good tap beer?Live Oak availability?

        What steps have they taken to make you forget you're in a strip mall?

        1. re: scrumptiouschef


          The room is VERY small, but they've added some brick detailing and lots of mardi gras/new orleans paraphenalia to make the strip mall feel dissipate. I will say that despite the size, the room was never overly loud nor did I feel too close to my neighbors. There are a number of four and two seaters tables along with a banquet and tables along one wall. White table cloths adorn each table, although there are also these weird plexi covers that help avoid constant tablecloth replacements. This choice takes away from the "white table cloth atmosphere" and seems a slightly schizophrenic design choice.

          No bar. It appears that as of now there is only wine and beer. I'm not sure, space-wise where they could squeeze in a bartender or bar space either. As far as I could tell, the beers were all bottled with a heavy emphasis on Abita. I didn't notice Live Oak or other popular local brews, although my glance at the beers was cursory. I know though that the hubby chose Shiner (after being denied his Fat Tire) and likely would have gone for the Live Oak, Fireman's 4 or other local brews if they had been available. The wine list was ok at a glance if a little pricey for some of the names that I recognized. All wines are only by the bottle except for a house chardonnay, either a merlot or cab, and a white zin. All of these are only $5 a glass. I had the Chardonnay. To be honest, when it comes to white wine I am very easy to please and I liked what they poured. Not an oaky chard, with some sweeter notes. And the pour was VERY large.

          With the size of the space, I think they've done as much as possible to erase the strip mall ambiance aside from a few overly cheesy mardi gras posters. If they can make adjustments on service (i.e. the quality of waiters is better across the board...of course I'm like a magnet for crappy waiters) and perhaps work on spice profiles so that dishes have different profiles and less of an across the board unknown and all powerful cajun spice (don't get me's tasty but after eating for 20 minutes thinks tend to start tasting more or less the same...still tasty but the same).

          Does this help?

          1. re: ashes

            Good job on the description, ashes; better than I would have done, since often I don't really pay much attention to those things (although you missed the Saints football helmet and other paraphernalia). On the beer, though: no draft beer, so that rules out Live Oak (bummer); but a full line-up of Abita products instead, and a few other offerings: Heineken, Shiner, Sam Adams, and I forget what else. I didn't really look at the wine list.

            1. re: ashes

              I'm into any good restaurant that can bring out the loquacious side of the remaining hounds on this board.

              I've been threatening[emptily]for a while now to quit going to local joints that don't carry local beer[given the abundance of world class breweries in town now].There's nothing wrong with Abita[except when you compare it to Rio Blanco or Live Oak]and I can see the stocking of it at Mama Roux given the slant of the menu.

              Thanks for the descriptors.I'll head up there soon and report back.

        2. We've had our eye on Mama Roux since it replaced Rangoli, which had become a favorite choice when curry was called for.

          As ashes points out, the primary change from the previous restaurant's layout is the addition of brick wall partitions around the dining space. On a trip to the men's room, I saw that the bar still exists at the far back of the main area, but we didn't order drinks apart from some good iced tea.

          Our waiter was very friendly, but seemed to go on and on about the homemade nature of all the entrees and desserts until I asked about the provenance of their andouille sausage, which he said is brought in from Louisiana.

          My wife settle on the Chicken Dinner, which is an understated name for what she received: a very tasty and moist blackened chicken breast filet with amazing red beans and rice and garlic mashed potatoes. Half the chicken went home with us later.

          I went for the Seafood and Sausage Gumbo after the waiter listed its ingredients unprompted by any question (he was really, really enthusiastic). Hearing no mention of clams or oysters, I ordered a bowl. The table next to us was populated by a boisterous foursome of fiftysomethings; when the vat of gumbo arrived, one of the men leaned over to my wife and quipped that he hoped I didn't fall in. The roux was a dark chocolate brown and permetated the crawfish, shrimp, catfish and andouille with savory goodness. After a few spoonfuls, I added a little heat via Tabasco. Tabasco also flavored our shared desser, the Tabasco Cheesecake, which is a substantial slice of creamy cheesecake served with Tabasco and Strawberry preserves, plus sliced fresh strawberries. Rich, sweety and piquant.

          We often send gift cards for local restaurants to my in-laws for special occasions, which we then take them out to use when they visit. On the way out, my wife asked the hostess if they offered gift certificates, and we found that they were having them printed to be ready in a few weeks. I think I know what my father-in-law is getting for his birthday.

          1. Thanks for the reviews. I can't wait to try it particularly the catfish mama. I do find the "undesirable neighborhood" comment a bit off though. Soulless stripmall notwithstanding ;).

            3 Replies
            1. re: Gaucho97

              Went to Mama Roux's for the first time for lunch on Friday. I had the fried shrimp plate with a cup of gumbo on the side.

              Hands down, without a shred of doubt the best fried shrimp I've had in the 10 years I've lived in Austin. Nice plump shrimp and lots of 'em.... fried perfectly.

              The gumbo was very, very good but maybe a bit under seasoned and i prefer a tad darker roux. and for me there should always be a sprinkle of file powder on top. Still, it was very good and easily the best I've had in Austin.

              I will eat there many more times.

              1. re: bloody hammer

                What is the breading like on the fried shrimp? Dipped in pancake like batter? Cracker meal? Corn meal? A light roll in flour?
                How is the tartar sauce?

                1. re: sighmesigh

                  best i recall i'd say it was a mix of flour and corn meal. lightly battered.

                  these shrimp were very plump and fresh tasting.... would've been a crime to heavy-coat them in batter.

                  i didn't try the tartar sauce but will next time.

                  oh, and if you dislike Tabasco as i do..... ask your server for the "louisiana hot sauce".... which is in a cup and nice and thick for dipping.

                  the dirty rice was also excellent.

            2. I had driven past Mama Roux a couple of times with no interest in visiting before I found out on Twitter that Mama Roux's owners also opened up the Cajun Gumbo's restaurants in the Austin area. My love of Gumbo's had me there with-in the week. I had the Yellow Fin Tuna (picture below) and you'll have to read my full review to see what my wife had with more pictures at .

              1 Reply
              1. re: texeyes

                This past Saturday, I was there with a large group.

                I found it pretty annoying that a restaurant of this caliber did not have a web site.

                There was a line of people waiting as early as 6 PM (no reservations I believe)

                We had multiple appetizers. the ones that I shared in were crawfish and shrimp in a spicy mornay sauce--perfectly cooked shrimp and crawfish, but the dish is VERY rich.

                Blackened Shrimp-nicely cooked, but ......meh..........middle of the road

                Fried Calamari, was a bit surprised to find calamari here, but was good.

                I had gumbo ya ya and it was a solid 80% with the potential for greatness (needed more heat --spice not temperature).

                I had a crawfish poboy with remoulade, fries, and red beans and rice. Great battered crawfish (the bun / bread was OK, not great)
                The red beans and rice side does not have andouille and it would have been quite good with it.

                4 of 8 at the table had the Bananas Foster Bread Pudding and raved, but I did not try it.

                Will be back after a few more months to see if they can keep it up.