Vibrant, hugely appealing flavors suffuse the down-home-style food served in this relocated destination for New Orleans-inspired dishes
My calendar tells me that Mardi Gras falls on Feb. 25. Given the relentless stream of unsettling headlines lately, a little Mardi Gras party — or a Mardi Gras blow out — might be just the ticket for brief relief from stressful news.
That ticket needn’t be to New Orleans, and it needn’t be Fat Tuesday for a Big Easy-style gala, if you visit a popular eatery that relocated from Linden to a purple building in the Great Southern Shopping Center in early 2019. Because at flamboyantly painted Way Down Yonder, every day is a little like Mardi Gras.
Make that every Wednesday through Sunday, when Way Down Yonder is regularly open. As an on-brand exception to this rule, the restaurant plans to serve on Fat Tuesday to celebrate Mardi Gras (check the website and Facebook page for verification). To help fuel the festivities, Yonder expects to debut its recently acquired liquor license (if what a staff member told me pans out) to spike its mood-brightening “Who Dat” house punch — a two-toned, tropical-style beverage made with pineapple, citrus and maraschino cherries ($3.50 without booze).Get dining reviews delivered to your inbox every Monday: Sign up for our daily newsletter
With walls painted in the Mardi Gras colors of purple, gold and green, and Mardi Gras beads the size of Christmas-tree ornaments dangling from the ceiling, plus a soundtrack that recently featured the Rebirth Brass Band, Yonder lets you know that Mardi Gras lies deep in its soul. Large photographs of smiling twosomes and Mardi Gras-tinted tables covered in protective plastic inform you that the former fast food space is now a homey, family embracing place.
You can taste these qualities in Yonder’s food. You can hear them in the audibly crunchy, near-constant parade of golden-brown delights emanating from the kitchen, such as the whopping Chef’s Special: two big fried fish fillets (get a piece each of perch and catfish), plus four huge, whole chicken wings. At $22, this isn’t cheap, but it comes with a generous side and can feed two.
Yonder’s spicy-yet-comforting Crawfish Etouffee ($15 and $18) — a sizable bowl of rich, thick and nuanced soup strewn with decent “mudbugs” and featuring a roux the color of peanut brittle — is addictive. When ladeled over a boatload of fried fish, it gilds a worth-the-splurge dish called Down by the Bayou ($25).
The well-tended fryers turn out crisp and delicious shrimp, too. These are bathed in a Buffalo-style sauce and paired with (somewhat overwhelmed) crisp little patties of zesty sausage on toasted, surprisingly soft French bread in the Bayou Heat Shrimp & Hot Sausage Sandwich. The $19 cost of this gloriously over-the-top po’boy (it’s best “dressed” with garnishes galore) becomes more manageable if you and a partner share it with a side or two ($4 each for not-so-small, “small” servings).
For a soothing side, the soft and indulgent Baked Mac & Cheese is hard to beat. For something lively, the terrific Southern Mixed Greens rock a flavor profile that’s popular here: zippy, peppery and vinegar-spiked. Similar punchy accents animate the brothy and recommended String Beans cooked with sliced potatoes, and the hefty, fragrant and spicy Jambalaya — a tomato-and-sausage-fortified taste explosion I would have liked even better had the rice not been so soft.
Yonder’s aforementioned go-to flavor accents, plus plenty of smoked-sausage disks, elevate its Red Beans and Rice ($12 and $15) from a humble dish to a dynamic extravaganza served with a hunk of good, crusty, cinnamon-scented cornbread.
The dark-hued Gumbo comes with loads of smoky sausage and pulled chicken ($12 and $15). Add a bit of shrimp and crab to the mix, and it’s $3 more. Both versions of the soup lack okra — a mandatory ingredient for many traditionalists — and consequently are light in body. Like everything I sampled in Mardi Gras-happy Yonder, though, each gumbo is dense with layers of vibrant, hugely appealing flavors.