I’m normally not too keen on Cajun or Creole cuisine, so I wasn’t in a huge hurry to try out Eaux, the food truck-turned-restaurant that replaced Crooners & Cocktails on Exchange Street, and a look inside revealing backless wooden barstools and minimalist décor did little to raise my enthusiasm.
I’m not too proud to admit when I’m wrong, though. On the day I visited, the vibe was perfect, with low-key R&B/hip-hop in the background, friendly service and a carefully curated food and beverage menu.
Chef and owner Evan Richardson, a New Orleans native, opened Eaux in late May. The tiny kitchen has no walk-in storage, so he makes everything fresh every day. His attention to detail extends to the cocktail menu, with Eaux smoking the lemon rinds in-house for cocktails such as the Sweet Tea Pain or the smoked lemon margarita, the off-menu special the day I was there.
The cocktail menu has a New Orleans feel, featuring classics such as an Old Fashioned and negroni, as well as a non-frozen daiquiri, the Randy Randerson (Eaux’s version of the Hand Grenade), a Hurricane and a Sazerac (rye, Pernod, sugar and Peychaud bitters). Staying true to the theme, my friend ordered a Hurricane and I went with the Sazerac, both $12. The bartender won me over by using the proper technique with the Pernod, coating the inside of the glass with it and then pouring it out so that only a whisper remained. The result was sheer perfection, New Orleans in a glass. I’m not a sweet drink person, so I didn’t expect to like my friend’s Hurricane, but the bartender came through, delivering something far from the sickly-sweet version you get in a lower quality bar and instead mixing up a citrusy, slightly sour drink with much more character.
Later in the evening (and let’s be real, by “later” I mean as soon as we finished round one), my friend ordered the daiquiri and I ordered an Old Fashioned, both $11. Once again, the bartender did not disappoint, producing two beautifully balanced cocktails. We also ordered the $5 boiled peanuts and the $5 fried butter beans flavored with honey chive butter. Both of them blew us away, with a flavor profile that re-exploded with every mouthful. Since you eat both of those items with your hands, we went through an embarrassing amount of napkins, but it fit the atmosphere, and besides, doesn’t honey chive butter have the same benefits on your fingertips as cuticle oil?
By this point, we knew we had to try the signature fried chicken and waffles ($14). The skillfully-seasoned chicken was crispy, the waffles had the perfect amount of syrup, and the dish was served with thinly sliced apple, an addition which transformed each bite into a mini-vacation to New Orleans.
Eaux also has six wines by the glass ($7 to $11), eight draft beers ($5 to $8), five canned/bottled beers ($3 to $8), and other New Orleans foodie favorites from $13 to $15. The menu changes often, there are purse hooks under the bar, and those barstools were surprisingly comfortable. So go visit Eaux before it becomes too popular to get in on short notice.
WHERE: 90 Exchange St., Portland
PHONE: (207) 835-0283
HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Wednesday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday
AMENITIES: Special late night menu, Sweet Tea Pain and Boudain Thursdays featuring $6 Sweet Tea Pain cocktail (Hennessey, house-smoked lemon, and sweet tea), gumbo version changes daily.
BOTTOM LINE: New Orleans flavors elevated to the next level in both the food and the beverages, set in a friendly and inclusive atmosphere.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes