My Favorite Places – Cajun Cafe On the Bayou
Nine days left until Tampa Bay Beer Week. As I think about the places that I have come to know and love around Tampa Bay, there is one that is constantly at the top of my list: The Cajun Cafe on the Bayou in Pinellas Park. They are not a brewery or a brewpub, but they are still a do-not-miss destination for anyone who appreciates good beer. Owners Paul and Rebecca Unwin are welcoming and fun, and always there with a smile and a story to tell. Paul was one of my first interviews. I had heard about the Cajun Cafe’s impressive beer selection and their much-touted beer festival, so I figured I should look them up. Paul invited me to come visit and sit down and talk, have a beer, try some of their Cajun culinary offerings, and we could go from there. I expected to spend an hour or two at the most, talk about beer, and be done.
When you approach the Cajun Café from the East on Park Boulevard, it would be easy to zoom right by and miss it. You have to watch for the small sign on the road, but easier to spot is the huge “Louisiana Cuisine & Craft Ale” billboard nestled among the mangroves a few yards back. The restaurant itself looks small from the front, but that first impression belies not only the space, but the experience inside. Decked out in Mardi Gras themed colors and baubles – as well as more than a few craft beer signs – the inside of the Café explodes with vibrant hues and energy. Paul met me with a grin and a handshake, and I knew right away this was going to be no ordinary interview. Anyone who knows Paul knows that sitting down for a “B&B session” cannot be confined to an hour or two.
I was treated to a great lineup of beers, samples of crawfish cornbread, red beans and rice, Cigar City Brewing Maduro-soaked sausages, and finally their whiskey bread pudding. You have not lived until you have sat down to this feast. Everything is delicious, bursting with flavor, made with great ingredients, and is totally fat- and calorie-free… okay not really, but the rest is true! Every time I have been back, I have come away full, happy, and convinced that the Cajun Cafe is still one of the best kept secrets in Tampa Bay.
What is not a secret anymore, is their twice-a-year beer festival. To begin with, this event is for craft beer lovers, not for those looking to eat and drink as much as they can and get wasted. Every beer is good here. There may be styles you don’t care for, but there is nothing cheap or ordinary. The admission price is a bargain considering what you have laid out before you. To begin with, the crowd is always great. Everyone comes to enjoy good beer, talk about beer, and have beer-related experiences with other beer-loving people. At any point in the afternoon or evening you can easily stop and talk to anyone else and have a lovely conversation. What have you tried? What was your favorite? Have you tried that one over there? This conversation will be repeated over and over throughout the event and everyone is always excited about what they got to try. Many consider this to be the best beer event of the year.
But any time of year is perfect for a visit. Whether it is during crawfish season for a huge steaming platter of the little buggers, or an evening to pop in the Bayou Bar for some B&B with Paul and whoever else might be there, you will have a great time.
Check out their website at www.cajuncafeonthebayou.com
Laissez les bon temps rouler!