Dat’s Cajun Café is hiding the best desserts in Hendersonville. They don’t do beignets, the de rigueur treat offered these days at so many New Orleans-themed restaurants and food trucks — places that don’t even claim a full Cajun repertoire. But what they do have, plain as it appears, is narcotically rich. Profoundly, dizzyingly delicious.
On a recent trip, the dessert list numbered just two items: ice cream in vanilla and butter pecan, made by kitchen manager Michael Elliston, and banana pudding, the work of owner/chef David Andrew Todd. That’s it. No wild experiments, no drizzlings of this or infusions of that, not even a slice of cake or pie. However, the butter-pecan ice cream tastes like an extended family of pralines is throwing a wild house party in every bite. And the vanilla ice cream, possibly infused with brandy or bourbon (not confirmed), is too decadent to be described in earthly terms.
The banana pudding, definitely not given the “day old and bold” treatment once encouraged by the band Southern Culture on the Skids in their ode to the regional treat, is fresh, thick, heavenly: somehow light and rich at the same time. One could attempt to puzzle out the provocative yearnings in the Creole lyrics on the restaurant’s Zydeco soundtrack — “did that singer just say ‘don’t come back wearing my slippers,’ or am I hearing that wrong?” — more easily than trying to convey just how ridiculously good Dat’s Cajun’s desserts are.
David Andrew Todd (the name is both an acronym of his initials and a Cajun phoneticism of “that”) and his wife Lindsey moved here after Hurricane Katrina with their family; their daughter Breona is an important part of the business. Dat’s Cajun is tucked into a cozy space on Fourth Avenue; the entrance features a portico awning and a menu boxed under glass, gestures of formality, considering the relaxed interior. The décor is charming, including Mason Jar pendant lights and festive Mardi Gras-themed shadow boxes.
The entrées hit all the hallmarks of Southern Louisiana bayou cuisine, and Dave’s Gumbo is especially good. It’s savory and latently spicy, the hot hitting the palate by casual degrees. The Shrimp Creole was on the soupy side — the presence of whole tomatoes would have been more comforting — but the Po Boy sandwich was an awesome double handful: There’s nothing to complain about in the portion department for any of Dat’s menu items. Twas the season for oysters, and the Gulf Coast bivalves were delicately fried, and again, served in generous amounts.
The restaurant doesn’t do the fusion thing, and its most apparent deviation from straight-up Cajun cuisine — a hearty house lasagna — makes sense when you consider just how much Italians contributed to the beautiful stew of New Orleans culture (giving us the Muffuletta sandwich, for instance). Baked mac-and-cheese appears in several places on the menu, including served with roast beef and French bread.
Todd and his crew recently began serving alcohol, and it would be nice to see Dixie’s Blackened Voodoo Lager on the beer list, if only for atmosphere. He notes, though, that “we never claim to [serve] New Orleans [cuisine] because people assume that they’re coming into a fancy New Orleans Restaurant. That is not what we are. It’s the kind of food you’re gonna get at ‘yo Mama ’n’ nems’ — the kind of food you’re gonna get at the little hole-in-the-wall café, or the little gas station at the end of the street.
“If you’re from Louisiana,” he adds, “you know what I mean.”
Dat’s Cajun Café is located at 133 4th Ave. East in Hendersonville, open Wednesday and Thursday 11am-9pm, Friday and Saturday 11am-10pm, and Sunday 11am-7pm. See the restaurant’s Facebook page or call 828-595-9811 for more information.