Thursday, September 20, 2012

Nubian Queen Lola's

There are some places that you just can't help but smile at hearing the name, and clearly Nubian Queen Lola's Cajun Soul Food is one of those places. I have always been intrigued, but never managed to go -- until this week. I made plans with a friend to go to lunch, and asked where she wanted to go, and she said "Anywhere. You pick." So off on an adventure we went! 

Nestled over at the corner of Rosewood and Chicon in this slowly gentrifying part of East Austin, is a building with two doors, side by side. The door on the left is painted with the Queen Lola name, so that had to be it! We opened the door which hit a clanking bell, and were greeted by a sea of sparkling Mardi Gras beads hanging from the ceiling. Alerted by the bell, Lola herself poked her head out from the back, gave a warm smile and said to sit where we liked. 

If the Mardi Gras beads were any indication, the decor is eccentric. There's a large "Last Supper" painted mirror, with a couch underneath it, some college football memorabilia, and various Cajun and African-themed tchotchkes. On the tables are slips of paper for making a donation to help Lola with one of her passions -- feeding the homeless. She's well known in the community for opening her doors to the less-fortunate on Sundays, where she cooks up her Cajun delights. And without a doubt, she's a woman of faith. {Take a look at her website and see the article that had been written about her in The Austin Chronicle.} We even got invited to a Jesus party this weekend!
Then there's the food. Austin doesn't have many soul food places, and you KNOW that Lola is overseeing everything that's going on in the kitchen. Being a Tuesday, I opted for the daily special -- five fried chicken wings with rice and choice of two sides, so I had butter beans and yams. The chicken was super-hot (temperature wise) with not a lick of grease. They must be frying in 500 degree oil! The batter for the chicken has Cajun seasoning in, and boy, that chicken was FINE! The skin (yeah, it's the best part) was so crispy and flavorful. Wish there had been more butter beans, because they were fine too! The yams are very sweet, and you can taste the cinnamon and a bit of clove in them, and you know you're in the south because the cornbread is sweet too. (I ended up taking two of the wings home; even when I reheated them in the toaster oven, they did not give off much grease at all.)
One friend had the fried pork chops with the butter beans and yams. The chicken wings and pork chops probably have the same batter on them, and the chops were also fried perfectly and were moist and tasty.  What they need is a touch of cream gravy! ;)
Our other friend had the catfish etoufee which tasted real good too! The collards also have the Cajun seasoning in them; surprisingly, I couldn't really tell if they were cooked in bacon fat or had any pork product in them. They were a touch salty but had a nice little kick from the seasoning. The servings are generous; we asked the table next to us what they were eating because one guy had this HUGE plate of food -- it was one of the po-boy sandwiches. And we all had what I believe is the Cajun tea, kind of a combination of Kool-Aide and sweet tea.... or cava-tea, as another friend calls it!
Lola and another female (she was wearing an apron, so she may have been the main cook) would come back and forth from the kitchen to the dining area bringing food and drinks; I think they were the only two people working there. She greeted everyone with warmth, and the place appears to attract quite a range of customers, both in age and race. When we were ready to go, we collected our money and handed it to her (they are a CASH ONLY place, FYI), and told her while we hadn't filled out the paper to "formally" make a donation to help with meals for the homeless, we did leave a little extra for it. She seemed genuinely appreciative, and came around and hugged and blessed each one of us.

No matter what your religious affiliations, you know that Nubian Queen Lola will warm your soul with her cooking and her spirit. Go get you some!

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