The Bayou Southern Kitchen and Bar

The Bayou Southern Kitchen and Bar

By Cathy Kiley

A bit of New Orleans exists just off Stefko Boulevard and Broad Street only a few minutes from the heart of downtown Bethlehem. Owners Christian Duarte and Mo Taylor combined their talents to open The Bayou Southern Kitchen and Bar last March. In doing so, these young restaurateurs have brought southern comfort food with a unique twist on traditional New Orleans fare to the Lehigh Valley.

The atmosphere at The Bayou is homey and very friendly. The exterior of what was once the old Hawthorne House is attractively finished in beige stucco while the interior is done in soft earth tones with wide plank floors, attractive woodwork, highly polished tables, exposed brick and suspended exhaust pipes.

The granite bar is sleek with at least a dozen beers on tap, including Guinness, which my husband Tom loves. Friendly barkeepers Annie and Mary were at the bar the Monday we visited and the place was fairly crowded. Annie expertly shook an icy Cosmo for me and poured a beer for Tom.

We enjoyed chatting with Manager Royal Brown who explained that everything at The Bayou is barbequed, cured and otherwise prepared in house, including desserts. The Bayou has developed a very strong following since opening on
March 10th.

Christian and Mo met a lot of folks over the years while working the bar together at Starter’s Pub and that core group has followed them to The Bayou. The owners and employees are young, enthusiastic and that, combined with some great blues in the background, creates a fun, lively atmosphere that is enjoyed by all. Can be a little noisy – but hey, this is New Orleans food – let’s get in the mood!

We sat at a table in the main dining room with a clear view to the busy immaculate kitchen from which came a never-ending array of great food. Our delightful server Natasha was quick to tell us her favorites while Christian and Mo were there to be sure we ordered those things from the menu we simply had to try.

BEPWe first had Flash Fried B.E.P. (black eyed peas) covered with fine herbs, lemon zest and cayenne. Oh my. A bowl of these babies arrived and I must say were a total surprise. Spicy and savory, the peas burst in your mouth releasing amazing tastes. They were so different from anything we ever snacked on before. We absolutely loved them.

Next we ordered the Gumbo, which that night was Shrimp and Andouille Sausage. The flavorful Gumbo arrived very hot as it should. This traditional New Orleans soup packed a zip, which we both enjoyed very much. We ordered the Bayou Cornbread with spicy tomato butter. The cornbread was wonderful and perfect with the Gumbo. The bread came already buttered and I appreciate that they brought a separate piece for Tom since he doesn’t eat butter. They are very accommodating to their patrons at The Bayou and I always appreciate that.

Also on the Snacks Menu were Sweet Potato Confit with Tabasco aioli and brown sugar; Golden Scallion Hush Puppies; White Bean Stew and Curried Cauliflower with pine nuts and golden raisin puree to name a few.

Next, from the Small Plates menu, we tried what I understand is one of the employees’ favorites – the House Andouille fried and served on crispy grits cake, with pickled shallots and a fried egg on top. Wow! The spicy sausage was lean, juicy and perfect with the egg. I am not a big fan of grits but these were combined with cornmeal and formed into a cake that was then fried and on which everything else was served. We loved this selection from the small plates menu and it would be perfect for breakfast!

We also sampled a bit of the Pork Belly Confit that the chef sent out to our table. Neither Tom nor I are lovers of pork belly. He does not eat it at all and I love the taste but find that pork belly is traditionally not a very lean meat. However, that being said, the pork was served with a unique combination of spicy cucumber Kimchi, Scallion Oil and Chinese Black Vinegar that I found delightful.

On the Small Plates menu you will also find Charred Shrimp with a jalapeno relish, herb salad, ginger/lime vinaigrette and cornbread crumbs; zesty smoked Pork Ribs with House BBQ Sauce and traditional slaw; BBQ Chicken Leg, house BBQ sauce, apple slaw and pickled relish; Fried Catfish with jalapeno/lime aioli, grilled scallions, and pickled carrot slaw and Ty’s Mac and Cheese with house ham hock, aged cheddar, fontina and sweet peas.

In addition to Gumbo (the recipe for which rotates daily) there is Curried Sweet Potato Soup with Lemongrass, coconut cream and herb salad. Speaking of salads, on the menu there is a Bayou Caesar with cornbread croutons, marinated tomatoes, pickled onion and roasted garlic Caesar dressing as well as a Mixed Greens Salad with Citrus, Bleu Cheese, radish, smoked almonds and a honey lemon vinaigrette.

For an entree, Tom and I shared the Buttermilk Fried Chicken. I cannot even remember the last time I ate fried chicken but I will order this dish again very soon. The Bayou’s Fried Chicken is fantastic – not at all greasy, very crisp and deliciously moist. The presentation is terrific too – a  generous portion of chicken served atop a wooden plank with Bread and Butter pickles and a generous dollop of mashed sweet potatoes. Simply wonderful.

All of The Bayou’s dishes are perfect for sharing which is great because there are so many interesting items on their menus. You will want to try a few.

The Large Plates menu also offers Blackened Catfish; Braised Oxtails with mushroom ragout, fried green tomatoes and natural jus; seared Salmon with charred leeks, Crayfish Etouffe, pickled mustard seeds and toasted barley; BBQ Shrimp and Grits as well as a house-smoked pork chop and a Hangar Steak.

There is also an interesting sandwich menu where you will find burgers, pulled pork and three variations of the Po Boy for those of you with a lighter appetite.

Just when we could not eat another bite, we looked at the dessert menu. I sampled the Chess Pie – a  very buttery crust under a creamy custard filling topped with Pecan crunch and Lemon ice cream with honey. This is a fabulous dessert and I highly recommend it along with a cup of freshly brewed coffee to end a wonderful meal. Okay, I’ll admit – the chef sent out traditional hot New Orleans Beignets loaded with powered sugar that both Tom and I tasted and brought home to enjoy the next day. Order them. They are delicious.

Duarte and Taylor’s dream came to fruition with the help of Tyler Baxter. Executive Chef Tyler Baxter hails from the Lehigh Valley where he studied in the Culinary Arts program at Northampton Community College. After three years as Executive Chef at Cosmopolitan in Allentown and tenure at Tapas on Main, he joined Christian and Mo in their new endeavor at The Bayou. In 2012, Baxter and two other culinary students won the chance to travel to New Orleans for a week of cooking with Emeril Legasse.

Bayou drinkTyler credits this experience for cementing his love of southern cooking and hospitality, and it was this inspiration, along with the collaboration of Sous Chef Sean Rainey, that The Bayou’s delicious southern comfort food creations were born. He said that he always wanted to cook southern food and The Bayou’s comfortable surroundings provide the perfect venue for serving up this food. Chef Baxter said, “It just made sense to do it here!”

We totally enjoyed our visit to The Bayou Southern Kitchen and Bar and plan to revisit very soon. Christian Duarte and Mo Taylor have brought a taste of New Orleans to Bethlehem. It is truly a fun, delicious and creatively casual experience. Go and find out for yourselves! And, as a side note, this review of The Bayou Southern Kitchen and Bar is my 50th restaurant review for Lehigh Valley Marketplace. What a great place to accomplish this milestone!

The Bayou is located at 702 Hawthorne Road in Bethlehem a block off Broad Street. Hours are Sunday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and 11 a.m. to Midnight Friday and Saturday. I suggest reservations, especially on the weekend. Call 610.419.6669 or visit: dat-bayou.com for reservations and complete menu information including their unique and fun specialty drink menu.

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