As a Cincinnati girl, born and raised on the west side, I'm no expert when it comes to Cajun or Creole food. Growing up, I thought I was tasting some exotic Cajun concoction when Maury's Tiny Cove started offering "blackened" seasonings for chicken and steak.
Sure, I've expanded my horizons somewhat since then with an occasional bowl of gumbo here or some red beans and rice there. But until recently, choices in the Tristate have been somewhat limited if you were looking for a variety of authentic Louisiana fare that is reasonably priced.
With the addition of Jozo's Bayou Gumbo this past year to the Northern Kentucky restaurant scene, diners now have a low-cost, low-hassle Cajun/Creole option for lunch, dinner and carryout.
This is no fancy, sit-down establishment. (I realize now why the woman who answered the phone laughed at me when I asked if reservations were needed.) Expect to order your meal at the counter and eat from Styrofoam plates. But the variety of flavorful Cajun and Creole offerings and the friendly service at Jozo's make it well worth the trip.
During our recent visit on a weekday evening, we were greeted by a boisterous manager from behind the counter who delighted in offering his recommendations. When we were still unable to decide, he prepared a plate with samples of many of the house favorites, such as jambalaya, Crawfish Étouffée and Cajun chili, to tempt our taste buds. To our surprise, all the dishes had very distinct flavors. Although the ingredients for each were similar -- combinations of onions, celery, tomatoes, beans and chicken, shrimp or crawfish -- the seasonings and sauces gave each its own taste.
All of the entrées are offered in regular, large or quart-sized portions, as well as in combos of two or more. Each dish is served over white rice and with tasty garlic bread. I opted for a combination of two entrées: vegetarian red beans and rice, and white chicken chili (Cajun Combo, regular, $6.25.) The veggie beans and rice are just like the original, minus sausage, but with the flavorful combination of onions, bell peppers, celery, tomatoes and slow-cooked red beans and spices -- by far my favorite entrée of the evening. The white chili included green peppers, onions, celery and jalapeno peppers, simmered in a creamy white bean sauce and topped with sour cream and shredded cheddar. Although it too was tasty, it reminded me of many other white chili dishes I've tried.
My husband ordered the special: the Big Easy Cajun Chicken Sandwich Combo ($6.25) with jambalaya. The half-sandwich, which was slow-cooked, shredded chicken with "special jambalaya seasonings" and "Bob's Smart Ass Sauce" (a hot, white sauce), was served on a fresh French roll. Combined with the flavorful jambalaya, it made a delicious and filling meal, even for a hearty appetite. Of course, we sampled many of the hot sauce offerings. With more than a dozen to choose from, we each had our own favorites. We cooled off and washed it all down with a couple of beers from the selection of imports and domestics (including a few Louisiana-brewed favorites).
Content that he had pleased a few newcomers, the manager continued to chat with us about other dishes to try. When he brought out a sample of the Lobster bisque, I was sure I couldn't eat another bite. But the smell of the shrimp, lobster and garlic was overwhelming, and caused a brief fight for the one spoon. (I won.)
When our final bill tallied just under $15, we knew we had found a new bargain dining spot. With entrées starting at $4.95 (regular) and ranging to $11.95 (for a quart size that would surely feed three or four), the reasonably priced meals are welcome relief to family dining budgets. Additionally, entrées are also available in gallon-size helpings for carry out (good for 12-15 adults), ranging from $30 to $40.
Since I doubt we'll see Crawfish Étouffée or Shrimp Creole on the neighborhood restaurants' menus any time soon, I suspect we may import some of the gallon containers to the Ohio side of the river to cool our Cajun cravings. ©
Jozo's Bayou Gumbo
Go: 2331 Buttermilk Crossing Crescent Springs
Hours: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 11 a.m.- 9 p.m. Sunday.
Payment: No credit cards accepted. Cash or check only.
Vegetarian Friendliness: Vegetarian red beans and rice are out of this world. There's also vegetarian succotash.
Other Information: Carryout available.