Franja Eastling sometimes wants something so much she can taste it. In many cases, it’s a trip to her hometown of New Orleans, where cooking seafood is an art form, and baking bread is a competitive sport, much like arm wrestling alligators. That’s why authenticity is key at her restaurant, Blue Dog Po’ Boys. When making a muffaletta sandwich, she doesn’t use bread that approximates the taste of the French Quarter. Instead, she has it flown in from Gambino’s, one of the Big Easy’s most venerated bakeries. The oysters that fill her po’ boys also arrive direct from New Orleans, and the shrimp are plucked from Florida’s coasts. When slathered in a simple batter and a light dusting of seasonings, they fry up light and crispy, just as she remembers them. Atop canvases of toasted french bread, they give George Rodrigue—the Cajun painter who created the Blue Dog that inspired this café—a serious run for his money.
Guests can savor all of these items in a cozy café flanked with pictures of New Orleans architecture, jazz musicians, and saints. Here, passersby can drop in solo to sample the chicken-and-andouille gumbo or bring a bevy of friends to devour five types of buffalo wings. To sate hunger at parties and meetings, the café also builds Cajun--style buffets from hearty blackened catfish and pasta jambalaya.