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Ursuline’s Kitchen does Cajun food right

Menu prices

Appetizers, which include crab cakes, crawfish boil and our Cajun shrimp, range from $5.95 to $13.95. Soups cost between $6.95 and $18.95 and include French onion, vegetable lentil, mushroom Andouille and our gumbo. Meal-size Bayou quiches, such as the Lorraine, asparagus, portabella and salmon, are $10.95. Crepes, including a rotating variety like chicken chipotle and mushroom au gratin, run between $10.95 and $12.95. Entrees cost between $11.95 and $19.95, and include po’ boy sandwiches from $11.95 to $14.95 and dinners from $14.95 to $19.95. Specials like my blackened pork chop, bouillabaisse and my wife’s crayfish etouffee, run between $15 and $20. Desserts are $5.95 to $8.95.

Ursuline’s offers Abita and other beers, as well as a limited selection of wines by the glass and by the bottle.

If you go

◆ Ursuline’s Kitchen

◆ 20 W. 79th Place, Merrillville

◆ Opens at 11 a.m. and calls last seating at 8 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 11 a.m. until the 9 p.m. final seating Friday-Saturday

◆ Reservations accepted at 736-9390

Maps

Updated: March 25, 2012 8:05AM



We felt the pulsations of the strumming bass and gliding guitar of the voodoo and blues rock even before entering the dark, quirky atmosphere of Ursuline’s Kitchen in Merrillville.

For several years Ursuline’s has featured the sounds of C-4 Blues Band out of Hobart and Portage around Mardi Gras and the 40-seat restaurant was jumping. It was a few days before Mardi Gras and for Ursuline’s this was like the Christmas season for retailers. Mardi Gras masks and beads decorated walls and tables and the unmistakable aromas of Cajun and Creole food wafted through this small, cozy eatery.

My wife and I were craving spicy food, the heat, flavors and scents of our beloved Big Easy. And while Ursuline’s couldn’t deliver Hurricanes, it does stock Abita beer from New Orleans and hearty helpings of famous local dishes such as gumbo, crayfish etouffee, crayfish boil, po’ boy sandwiches and blackened chicken, pork chops, shrimp and catfish.

I made the mistake I always make when I arrive at a favorite restaurant with a big appetite and no self control. I ordered a bowl of gumbo and some blackened shrimp as starters and remembered shortly that Ursuline’s doesn’t skimp on portion size.

Ursuline’s prepares dishes to order and diners can request mild, spicy or extra spicy. Despite their warnings, we urged concerned staffers to bring it on. A caution: The extra spicy really is spicy.

The shrimp were succulent and arrived with a blackened, spicy crust that caused rivulets of sweat to drizzle down both the the back of my neck and my forehead. The shrimp were served with lemon slices and a tangy tomato-based dipping sauce, which was worthwhile, but almost unnecessary. The shrimp were nearly perfect on their own.

The gumbo I requested included chicken and plenty of okra, peppers and celery in a flavorful stock. I dipped Ursuline’s homemade bread into the soup and savored the tastes with great satisfaction. My wife was torn between the blackened catfish and the crayfish etouffee, but opted for the New Orleans version of the French classic — boiled, scarlet-colored crustaceans. I requested the blackened pork chop dinner.

The etouffee (meaning “smothered”) was prepared with diced green peppers and celery and a roux, which thickens the sauce and adds layers of complexity and character. While we enjoyed it and the tasty little crayfish tails that populated the dish, it tasted curiously bland. We took the remainder home and to our delight, it was better for lunch the second day. The flavors somehow had been released, betraying flavors of thyme and file gumbo in a much livelier version of the dish that we’d sampled the night before. My blackened pork chop, however, was a star straight from the kitchen. This thickly cut chop was drenched in a spice mixture that includes several kinds of pepper, oregano and garlic, then seared in a smoking hot cast iron pan to form an incredibly flavorful and spicy crust protecting the meaty interior, which remained juicy. And the steamed broccoli, stir-fried onions and greens pleasingly complemented my chop.

For dessert we ordered the peanut butter pie and the Bananas Foster. The banana dessert included plenty of the rum butter sauce, which really makes the dish. But our bananas and ice cream were drowning in the delectable sauce and I would have preferred a little less. The peanut butter pie featured a thin layer of chocolate on top, a thick peanut butter-based filling and a sweet chocolate sauce.



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