Acworth, Small Town USA, chosen for the filming of the recent remake of the movie “Footloose,” houses an unlikely celebrity: Louisiana native Henry Chandler.
Chef Henry, as he is affectionately known by the locals, is the recent winner of the People’s Platelist Award, a contest held by ABC ’s “Nightline.”
This popularity award celebrates chefs with a distinctive approach and a loyal following. With his Southern twang, shaggy hair and brightly patterned chef’s pants, Chandler holds court at Henry’s Louisiana Grill. He works his dining room, pronounces first-timers “virgins” and bestows Mardi Gras beads upon all the ladies.
Henry’s re-creates the feel-good vibe of the Big Easy — clearly a draw for the regulars who crowd into church pew benches beneath Mardi Gras posters, drink Louisiana craft beer and strain to hear helpful advice from the eager waitstaff over the loud, excited din. They may also like the heavy, deep-fried and abundantly sauced food, but I’ll admit that it didn’t always translate into the best examples of Cajun dining for me.
While perusing the menu, I munch on ultrasweet cakelike corn bread, which a waiter confesses led to his 16-pound weight gain over two years. More to my taste are the hush puppies ($2.95) — fried to a crisp in a coating of Zatarain’s Fish Fry that leaves no trace of grease and masks the marginally gummy interior.
The menu reads like your corner Mexican restaurant’s with its endless combinations of the same few ingredients. Many of the house specialties, including the jambalaya, gumbo and étouffée (each $4.95 per cup, also available in entree portions), slap you with the expected Cajun-style heat. But they fall flat. Where’s any dimension beyond the forefront taste of spice?
Missing are the layered flavors needed to give these classics their soul-satisfying richness. Fortunately, I found them in the shrimp creole ($4.95 per cup). Stewed onions, garlic, celery and peppers enrich the tangy, acidic, tomato-based broth; the shrimp are firm and tender, with a nice initial snap. Chef Henry does know how to cook his seafood.
Henry’s signature dish is the “Ooh La La” — a seemingly hard-to-go-wrong-with mixture of flash-fried seafood, spinach and tasso ham. Alas, one extra component spoils the party. A Cajun cream sauce dominates the flavor, conquers the crispiness of the delicately fried seafood and sits like a lump in your belly. Ooh No No.
On a lighter note, the Bayou Cakes ($12.95-$17.95) exhibit a bit more finesse. They contain sizable chunks of shrimp and crawfish, use little filler and sport a gorgeous crisp breading. The spicy remoulade and creole sauces complement, rather than overwhelm, the seafood in this dish.
If you’re hoping to end the party on a high note, skip the “world famous” bread pudding ($3.95 per cup), which has a gluey, off-putting texture that gums your mouth. This mistake likely could have been avoided by first toasting the bread used in it.
Though Chef Henry may not deliver the finest representations of his home state’s cuisine, the experience is unmistakably Louisiana. So, if you’re in Acworth and are yearning for a night in the bayou, stop by and get your beads.