Fullerton's Bourbon Street Introduces Improved California Cajun Menu
How much of downtown Fullerton are you familiar with? While we have talked about newer restaurants that have cropped up in recent years, we haven't looked too closely at the eateries already in the area. When Bourbon Street Bar & Grill decided to release a new/old menu, that attracted some attention. The restaurant was founded in 2008 on the vision to provide Orange County with a place to flock to for true New Orleans-style cuisine. While some more well-known dishes fared well, there were definitely tastes on the menu that did not appeal to the crowd. A turn towards more Californian cuisine resulted in what felt like a detraction from the original intention. Now, Bourbon Street has pulled together the favorites of both menus to present an unchanging array of dishes which owners Larry Houser and John Skehan are both proud of. We were invited in one morning to take a look at this powerhouse combination.
Easily, the first thing you will notice about Bourbon Street is its attention to keeping the vibe as authentically New Orleans as possible. While there is a street-side entrance, most customers find their way into the restaurant from the parking lot entrance which mimics a Bourbon Street storefront. It helps that the building is one of downtown Fullerton's historic structures so that there is much exposed red brick to lend to the atmosphere. Inside, the dimly lit dining area was constructed to look like you were outdoors on the street itself. A faux worn stone walkway forms the floor, and the booths are divided by street lamps. Large custom paintings in the booth spaces create the illusion that each section is actually a store along the "road." Near the bar, shadowy men play instruments, and above the main entrance is a voodoo doll. The restaurant certainly has taken the New Orleans spirit to heart. The outdoor feel indoors was a nice touch and gives you an option for a much different atmosphere on a night out.
It would be a poor business decision to have an establishment in downtown Fullerton and not offer a late night scene. Open until 2AM every night, Bourbon Street transforms from the feel of a restaurant to an exciting bar after about 10PM, moving their tables and seats out of the way to make room for more guests. Why would this be the spot to hit up? Perhaps the Big Ass Beers could tempt you, especially with six different Abita beers on tap at any time, or if you are a Jell-o shots person, there are oversized plastic syringes ready for the taking. Both of those options are extremely popular but what really draws in the party crowd are their Big Ass Drinks. The series consist of drinks such as the Louisiana Rainstorm (Ketel One vodka, Cruzam rum, blue curacao, Midori, pineapple juice, and sweet & sour), Big League Chew (Ketel One Orange vodka, grenadine, peach schnapps, banana liqueur, and orange juice), and Big Sexy (Ketel One Citroen vodka, peach schnapps, Midori, cranberry juice, and orange juice). We snapped a shot of the Big Sexy and tried our mouths at imbibing of the multi-layered colorful cocktail but it proved too monstrous for just two so early in the morning. If you're going to grab a Big Ass Drink, you better have a sweets-loving army tackling it along with it. Oh and if you're looking for it, yes, they do have Hurricanes but we can't vouch for what those taste like; give it a try and let us know!
So what is this California Cajun menu I had mentioned before? Does it mean that there is a 50/50 split of California cuisine and Cajun food or does it mean that the Cajun food has been made Californian? Bourbon Street veers more towards the latter but tries not to give up the authenticity of classic dishes. The Southern Fried Chicken ($17 - served with Cajun creamed corn and garlic mashed potatoes) is an order that has elements of both where the more authentic component would be the chicken and the likings of the community show themselves in the sides. The juicy chicken pieces had extremely audible crunchiness but definitely needed some back-up in flavor. We found the corn and potatoes to be the stars of the show; the Cajun spices incorporated into such smooth corn made it all the better, and I haven't had garlic mashed potatoes so creamy and garlicky in a while (ignore the awkward green onion accessories). Thumbs up for those sides which can be ordered separately as well.
If you are one more keen towards sides and starters, you will not find a lack of that at Bourbon Street. We highly recommend getting their Corn Chowder ($8 - roasted corn and Poblano peppers, potato, onions, celery, and diced red peppers) for its savory creaminess and the complex flavors. It was chunky with vegetables and packed with Cajun love. If you want to see a mash-up of Californian and Cajun, they have a Cali-Cajun Corn Dog ($6 - three mini, spicy sausage links fried in a sweet corn batter) as part of the Bar Snacks which is an intense fried food. The use of spicy sausage gives good contrast to the sweet corn. For the really Californian, the Bar Snacks menu also has a Chartre St. Bruschetta ($6 - Roma tomatoes, capers, Gorgonzola, garlic, basil, Monterey cheese, and Cheddar) that resembles a flatbread. Neither of us were particularly impressed with this one, and Gorgonzola was a bit strong. There was also a Bacon Mac & Cheese ($12 - smoked Gouda, spiced sharp Cheddar, Pepperjack, bourbon bacon, and sourdough bread crumbs) in a skillet gracing the menu as an apparent desire from the community feedback. Every place must have mac and cheese right? While not bad, this shouldn't be your number one choice for the nostalgic dish in Orange County.
Moving onto the Cajun/Southern dishes now! We cannot ignore that Bourbon Street does pay homage to its start with such items. They feature a variety of sandwiches including the Fried Shrimp Po' Boy ($14 - tempura-fried shrimp, Serrano aioli, ginger slaw, tomatoes, butter pickles, remoulade, and jalapenos) we were able to taste, a sandwich that definitely benefited from having OC Baking Company bread for its buns. The Californian influence showed itself in the pepper choices and the inclusion of a ginger slaw alongside the sandwich. Unfortunately, this sandwich did not live up to the classics that I've tasted in New Orleans myself, and it is quite possible that this is due to the batter being too thick on the shrimp. The perk though? That bread was fantastic. Aside from the sandwiches, there is also a slew of dishes iconic to Cajun cuisine. Take their Chicken Gumbo ($10 - classic and spicy over dirty rice) for example. Stellar. This rich and thick soup had all the flavors I enjoy in a gumbo and even had the proper texture, being between a bisque and creamy mashed potato in consistency. The dirty rice had distinct grains and was seasoned well. A strong recommendation goes for this gumbo which the restaurant seems to take much pride in.
Another classic of the South is Jambalaya ($15 - shrimp, chicken, peppers, and onions in a classic rice stew) so naturally, the restaurant carries this as well. We were forewarned that a soupier version has been the preference of the regular clientele here. Unfortunately, along with the soupy jambalaya was a strong vinegary taste that we weren't fond of. The Baby Back Ribs ($18 - voodoo bbq sauce with herb fries and ginger slaw) fell victim to the vinegary taste as well. However, in terms of being cooked, they were quite tender and glazed well. The meat pulled away without much effort and was juicy. Over a bed of well-done fries, these ribs come in an impressive amount sure to keep the rib lover full.
Our last bite of Bourbon Street's newest menu was of their Beignets which were perfect pillows of powdered goodness. Adorned with a berry sauce or praline, these desserts arrived piping hot from being freshly fried and sprinkled generously with powdery sweetness. They were a good end to a showcase of dishes that had a combination of hits and misses.
It seems that this menu definitely has a combination of obvious favorites, and we've got our eyes on a few of them ourselves. The sides were all crave-worthy, and some of the entrees would be re-orders as well. If you are interested in giving them a try yourself, find them at 110 E. Commonwealth Ave. Fullerton, CA 92832. Our thanks go out to Larry and the staff for their service and information that morning.
Photography by Duc Duong. More photos available on Facebook here.