Munch goes to Bistro Soul

Munch believes that God of Munch (GOM) reserves a special place in Heaven for those who are in the business of making delicious food. (Correspondingly, Munch believes there is a special place in hell for whoever invented low-fat mayonnaise and jogging.)

So when Munch heard of Nikki Heckman, who had opened two restaurants -- Bistro To Go and Bistro Soul -- on East Ohio Street with the goal of sprucing up Deutschtown, mentoring local kids and dishing up deliciousness, Munch knew that GOM was smiling down.

Bistro Soul, which opened in late June next to Bistro To Go, serves up "slow-cooked comfort" and its menu is a sort of hodgepodge of Southern comfort food -- corn bread, collard greens and mashed potatoes -- and distinctly Cajun cuisine -- red beans and rice, gumbo and ettouffe.

The restaurant had gotten a strong endorsement from Salty Language Friend of Munch, who in an expletive-laden e-mail talked about how $#@$• %$ the macaroni and cheese is. "I #@$#$ love that #$@# place!"

So Munch brought along a formidable panel of experts: New Orleans Friend of Munch, Baton Rouge Friend of Munch (even owns an LSU flag), Sort of Southern Friend of Munch (does Alexandria even count?) and the less-discriminating Recovering Vegetarian Friend of Munch.

Taking NOFOM and BRFOM was a dicey proposition, because Louisianans take their food very seriously. If someone serves them up a bad bowl of gumbo, they take it as a personal insult. And given that BRFOM owns a gun, things could have gotten scary.

The food is served cafeteria style and a brightly lit front counter, so the pace is perfect for lunch. The price was as perfect as well -- about $54 fed five heartily. Entrees are priced between $8.25 and $11.50 and come with corn bread and a side.

We all settled in the warmly lit, new back dining room, where artwork from the Manchester Academy Charter School adorned the walls, and dug in.

NOFOM and BRFOM ordered the red beans and rice with Andouille Sausage ($8.75). Both gave the dish high marks in the flavor category but complained that the consistency was a little on the soupy side. As for the green beans: "definitely not like the beans I'm used to from my mother and grandmother," said BRFOM. NOFOM said (and Munch confirmed) that the sweet potato casserole was deliciously smooth, except for the odd chunks of sweet potato skin.

RVFOM dug right into this whole carnivore thing, ordering the dish that captured the most biological diversity: The chicken, shrimp and crab gumbo ($10.95 with rice). RVFOM was more than pleased, having devoured like half of the animal kingdom, but the rather particular NOFOM complained that it was too tomato-based.

Munch got the country chicken ($8.25), a chicken breast that has been dunked in gravy, breaded, fried and then dunked in gravy again. Because the only thing better than gravy of course is more gravy. It was satisfyingly moist, surrounded by a mushy layer of starchy goodness.

SOSFOM, who has a deep appreciation for sweet tea and fried chicken, ordered the pot roast ($8.50), a Tuesdays-only special. It was "fall-apart tender," he said.

The corn muffins got a "meh" and a shoulder shrug from NOFOM, but Munch dug their dense texture and slight sweetness.

In Munch's estimation, the star of the show was a supporting actor. The macaroni and cheese ($3.50) is served in a self-contained, softball-sized ball of heavenly starch-and-cheese divinity topped with seasoning. Munch was addicted and so was so was SOSFOM, who poached a hefty portion of Munch's (and now has a bounty out for his head).

The main complaint? Bistro Soul's food should come with a "Warning: may cause drowsiness" label. Because the restaurant really lives up to its tagline: "slow-cooked comfort."


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