I was welcomed from a blizzard into a restaurant where the owners were welcoming and the food was warm and soulful. Smooth jazz played in the background and I was greeted by name, as almost every patron does.
Darren, the owner and chef of The Creole Soul Cafe hand-built his restaurant to be an escape. A kind word, a laugh and a warm meal will greet you if go to this piece of Louisiana in the middle of downtown Syracuse.
A few blocks from Armory Square, Darren and his wife Venetia opened the Creole Soul Cafe invoking recipes from Darren’s youth. Darren moved to Syracuse when he was five years old and spent every summer of his childhood until he was fifteen , in New Orleans. He learned how to cook in college when he realized, as we all have, that the dining halls wouldn’t cut it. He asked his aunt for family recipes and over the years has tweaked them to make them “his”.
When I went to the Creole Soul Cafe to try out his authentic cuisine, I brought a friend who can be very picky when it comes to food. So, of course I had to order him an Alligator Po-Boy. My friend ate the entire sandwich, only pausing to say- “I still can’t believe this is alligator.” He mentioned in awe how everything we tried had a smooth spice to it, and deeply appreciated the layering of flavors. Seeing how he is with dining hall food- that’s to say eating a piece of pizza here and there – I was grateful that he stepped out of his comfort zone. In the Creole Soul Cafe cuisine, exists a place where trying new foods doesn’t have to be scary.
The pride that Darren has regarding his food shows, as he approaches every customer with an air of confidence and ease.The second we sat down he says, “You’re going to have some of my lemonade. It’ll be the best lemonade you’ll ever have.” He was right. It was the perfect drink to go along with the dishes he brought us, a sample of his homemade chili, his Bourbon Chicken, an Alligator Pie and an Alligator Po-Boy all with a side of red beans and rice. Darren described his chili as deceptive- it was not too spicy (although he can amp up all of his recipes for any palate) and leaves a touch of heat on the back of the tongue.
At the Creole Soul Cafe, spice is not an addition to something in order to only give it heat; the spice is complex and well-rounded and gives each bite a warm finish that only adds to the depth of the meal you’ll be served. Now during Downtown Dining Week, you can order a three course meal there for $25. That’s a bargain seeing that it covers a round-trip plane ticket to New Orleans, a full stomach and a warm atmosphere.