click to enlarge bartlettimage-muddy_waters-6968.jpg

Photo by Rob Bartlett

Muddy Waters in South Eola got its mojo working 

Spell check

When the Beacon Hill Group, owners of Mucho Tequila and Tacos, grew tired of their meh Mexican concept, they looked to an old friend for a little inspiration: Bernard Caramouche, former culinary director of Emeril Lagasse's Orlando restaurants. That the man with the most N'awlins name of all time would steer them toward the cuisine of the Crescent City wasn't the least bit surprising. Caramouche and his comrade Larry Sinibaldi were already operating Two Chefs Seafood Oyster Bar, a successful NOLA-inspired boîte in the North Quarter, so when the pair agreed to partner up with the Beacon Hill Group to open another, it was also not surprising.

And so Muddy Waters ("a Two Chefs Restaurant," parenthetically) was born sending Mucho Tequila and Tacos to its grave. If you happen to be one of the few mourning the loss of Mucho, take heart knowing that it went peacefully, and that much of the decor and furnishings remain the same (even that rope ceiling). The food, however, most certainly has not.

Oysters are highly touted here, but we weren't deep enough into fall to feel wholly comfortable slurping raw Gulf oysters – even in this month ending with "R." But we had no problem having them fried and stuffed into a sizable po'boy ($16) with lettuce, tomato and mayo. The sammie is a classic through and through, right down to the bread from Gambino's bakery in Metairie – crisp and flaky on the outside, airy-soft on the inside. While the fries are perfectly fine, a side of chicken and sausage jambalaya ($7) put the boogie-woogie into the pairing.

When it ($11) isn't served tepid, the gumbo here is arguably the best damn gumbo in the city, with its luscious slivers of duck meat, andouille, okra and perfectly cooked rice. When temps outside cool down a bit (if they cool down a bit), a meal of raw Apalachicola oysters and gumbo will def be in order. Shoot, we'd probably order steamed Cedar Key clams ($12) in a white wine sauce flecked with pancetta pepper flakes as well. Oh, and an extra order of bread ($1) to sop up that wondrous liquor before licking our fingers clean in anticipation of what's to come next.

Smoked trout beignets ($12) are a true Acadian indulgence, very much like the crab and seafood beignets I saw on menus in New Brunswick. Here, they're served with a spicy tartar dip, which we enjoyed fully, just as we did a glorious serving of shrimp and grits ($18). The shrimp – plump, sweet and slightly charred – are daintily set atop creamy cheddar grits, mushrooms and fines herbes, all spattered with a caramelized onion demiglace.

After sampling a burger ($14) of grass-fed beef cooked to a nice medium-rare, we were all under the restaurant's spell, and when we unquestioningly acquiesced to our charming server's suggestion to end with banana bread pudding ($7), we knew we were damn well ensorcelled. Clearly, Muddy Waters got a black cat bone in its mojo bag and, honestly, it's fine by us if the spell don't break.

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