Now though, I’m happy to report, there’s a restaurant in town unflinchingly committed to Cajun-Creole cooking, without hedging any bets by including pizzas and such on the menu. That might turn out to be a formula for disaster since, as noted, dedicated Louisiana-style eateries haven’t fared well in Zion. So, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Spoony & Nata’s Down Home Café.
The odd location of this restaurant is fitting. It reminds me of the strange, often wonderful little cafes you find in and around New Orleans—tucked away in alleys, butting up against the Mississippi, in a hidden courtyard or in the back of someone’s house. Spoony & Nata’s is located on the ground level of the Terrace Apartments on south Main Street. In fact, to get to the restrooms you walk down a dark corridor, past the apartment complex’s front desk, through the game room/library, past the pool and then make a left turn to the bathrooms. It’s a hike. I suggest taking care of your business before you leave the house. The other oddity here is the hours: The place is closed Sundays and Mondays; closes at 6 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday. Happily, the hours have recently been extended to 8 p.m. on Fridays, when there’s a live piano player, and till 7 p.m. on Saturdays. So, plan on lunch or an early dinner.
You’ll be greeted warmly by Tony, who lives at the Terrace and serves as greeter. For some reason, he calls me Dan. I just go with the flow. Service is provided—exclusively, as far as I can tell—by Keli, the daughter of owners Darrell “Spoony” and Renata Braham. Don’t assume, as I did, that the family came to Utah after Katrina; they’ve been here for nearly two decades. The space is divided into two main dining rooms, plus counter seats that face the kitchen, with frescos painted to give one the feel of a New Orleans courtyard. It’s comfy, with a very friendly vibe—Southern hospitality at its best. Just about every customer I’ve seen in the place seems to know the staff, and vice versa.
The menu will confuse you. It did me. The sandwiches are straightforward enough: There’s a fried catfish filet sandwich ($6.75), a hot or smoked sausage link sandwich ($5.99), for example, along with burgers and grilled cheese and the daily special, which always seems to be a fried shrimp po boy (6-inch for $7.50 or 12-inch for $13). The po boy is terrific: tender shrimp in a crispy batter coating with shredded lettuce, tomatoes and rémoulade on a po boy roll worthy of the Crescent City. The other daily special is the fried shrimp and catfish basket ($12.50), which is also killer. But, here’s the confusing part: There are “sides” listed on the menu that aren’t really sides at all, ranging from $2.99 for a sausage link to $9.99 for gumbo.
The gumbo, for example, is a large bowl brimming with crab, shrimp, sausage and chicken—shells, bones and all—over rice. Every Southern cook’s gumbo is unique, and this one is more of a soup than the thicker gumbos you might encounter elsewhere. It’s delicious in the way that only a slow-cooked, homemade gumbo can be, although I did need to kick it up a notch with a healthy dose of Crystal Hot Sauce. The jambalaya ($6.50), too, is hardly a side dish. It’s a plate of perfectly cooked converted (e.g., Uncle Ben’s) rice with tender chunks of boneless chicken breast and smoked sausage slices (they don’t use andouille at Spoony & Nata’s because some people find it too spicy). If the jambalaya portion is a side dish, it’s a side for two to three people.
“These are the best chicken fingers I’ve ever tasted!” proclaimed my 10-year-old son Hank, as he munched on the “gourmet chicken fingers and fries” ($7.99), but also judged Tabasco to be “Hot! Hot! Hot!” when I suggested he try some on the fingers and fries. The three deep-fried chicken wings that accompanied my “side” of jambalaya were decadently delicious as well—crispy and crunchy outside, tender inside and scalding hot all around. Regardless of whatever else you order, spring for a “side” of homemade red beans and rice to share; you won’t be sorry.
For now, as Spoony & Nata’s is still getting its bearings, specialty dishes like crawfish étouffée, stewed chicken, and Cajun fettuccine are only available sporadically on weekends. So, I suggest calling in advance to find out what specials are running on Friday and Saturday. Me? I’m holding out for authentic barbecued shrimp a la Liuzza’s by the Track in New Orleans. Until then, I’m just very happy to have homestyle Cajun-Creole cooking back in town.
SPOONY & NATA’S CAFÉ
1810 S. Main
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