BELLINGHAM - The languid ceiling fan gave us a faint but welcome breeze as we waited for our food at Bayou on Bay on one of the hottest evenings in local history.
We had intended to find a restaurant with air conditioning, but the lack of it at this downtown eatery provided an authentic hot, sweaty Louisiana atmosphere for our enjoyment of Creole and Cajun cookery. We would not have been surprised to see Stanley Kowalski on the sidewalk outside, bellowing for Stella.
At first, the mood was diluted somewhat by bluegrass music on the sound system, but this mistake was fixed before we had a chance to complain: They switched to Cajun music as our dinners arrived.
This isn't a fast-food place. These meals were fussed over before delivery, and the wait was worth it.
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We started with two appetizer selections: barbecue chicken wings, $5.99, alder and apple-smoked in a zesty but not overpowering sauce; and crab and crawfish cakes, $7.29, with a buttermilk lime dressing. Both dishes add a hint of Northwest flavor to southern standbys, and the results were quite successful.
The wings consisted of only the meaty "drumette" portion-none of those little bone-and-skin segments. The sauce on the deep-fried cakes did an artful job of enhancing the delicate flavor of the arthropods without overwhelming them.
I was also pleased to see fried okra on the appetizer menu, since this dish brought back tasty memories of dinners at Bill Parks Barbecue in El Paso, Texas, during my years on the Rio Grande. But I'll need to make a return visit to try it out.
For dinner, we chose the grilled pork chop, $14.49, served with redeye gravy, and andouille sausage and prawn skewers with red beans and rice, $13.49.
The pork chop was tender and juicy as a fine beefsteak, perfectly cooked, with an intriguing smoky taste. And the side orders that accompanied it-macaroni-and-cheese and Cajun red potatoes-were talented supporting actors in this culinary movie, not just fill-you-up starchy extras. The cheese on the pasta was rich and flavorful, with a crispy crumb crust, and the potatoes were crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside.
That kind of attention to everything on the plate is one of the things I look for in deciding whether to go back to a restaurant, and whether to recommend it to you.
The sausage and prawn skewers were also quite enjoyable. Andouille is a very hot sausage that makes a nice counterpoint for the delicate flavor of prawns. And the beans and rice came in a portion ample enough to provide me with a leftovers lunch the next day.
Bayou on Bay is providing delicious, hearty meals at prices that stop well short of the high end of the local restaurant scene. I'm no expert on Cajun and Creole cooking, and perhaps purists would turn up their noses. But I'll be back.
BAYOU ON BAY
Address: 1300 Bay St., Bellingham
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday
Price range: $10 to $17