Despite the lack of a bayou, Springs Orleans in downtown Colorado Springs has all the trappings of Louisiana cuisine, right down to the beignets, catfish and gumbo.
Our server said he can always tell who's from the Pelican State, not so much from their accents but from those who order the crawfish. "It seems a lot people are afraid to try crawfish," he said. I've tried it and wasn't frightened, but I do prefer shrimp.
A small bowl of Cajun kettle chips was set on the table along with remoulade for dipping soon after we were seated. The chips had a spicy flavor, and the sauce provided a soothing equalizer. The menu offers a few appetizers, and we selected the calamari with creole marinara ($9) based on our server's recommendation. The serving size was more than plentiful for two. We could have shared it with others in the restaurant. Selfishly, we didn't. The crispy coating complemented the chewy squid, but we detected no creole, as in fiery, flavors in the traditional Italian sauce.
I ordered etouffee with shrimp, not crawfish, ($17). For an extra $5, I could have had a combination. Here it all begins with a blond roux: a flour and butter mix that isn't allowed to brown but has a somewhat gold hue. It features the trinity of diced onion, green pepper and celery, along with a blend of spices that provides a subtle caress to the taste buds rather than an all-out assault. Served over white rice, with an impressive amount of crustaceans, this is essentially a stew with a Southern twist.
By contrast, gumbo ($9 for a cup; $14 for a bowl) is more soup-like and is made with a brown roux, so it has a darker, richer color. Gumbo also contains more ingredients, which at Springs Orleans include chicken, Andouille sausage, the trinity of vegetables and some of the same seasonings that grace the etouffee but with less (spice) heat.
Red beans and rice ($11) is another dish that's practically synonymous with New Orleans cooking. Pieces of distinctive piquant Andouille sausage and tender red beans are served over rice that can best be described as comfort food. We added fried chicken and corn cake (an extra $5), although they did little to enhance the dish. For one thing, we weren't expecting chicken tenders, which even battered and fried are not an authentic representation. The corn cake was a fried, sweet version of cornbread. Thankfully, the beans and rice - the main attraction - overshadowed the lesser accompaniments to the entrée.
Anytime a pastry chef's name (Christine Adrian-Miller) is on a menu, it's hard to resist desserts. The selections include bread pudding, cheesecake, chocolate mousse, pies and, of course, beignets ($3). These pillowy-soft, fried treats are similar to sopapillas without the honey, or fritters without a filling. But I'm a pushover for key lime pie ($7). Here it's a tartlet rather than a slice of pie, but that doesn't detract from the tangy, acidic dessert. The graham cracker was a bit thick, but the rich filling made this easy enough to overlook.
I've dined at Springs Orleans through the years. At times the place is hopping with live music and a packed house; on other visits, it is more subdued, such as the most recent. The only difference I notice is the noise level. Otherwise, the service and food quality are consistently enjoyable.