One of the lesser-known elements of customer experience is the unexpected. At Louisianne’s Etc., diners arrive through an ordinary front door on Hubbard Street in Middleton, but as they descend the stairs, they feel like they’re slipping down into the French Quarter of New Orleans. It starts with the aroma of Cajun cuisine and the sound of hot jazz piano filling the air. At the bottom of the stairs, a quaint and charming atmosphere carries through rustic stone walls, curved arches, chandeliers, and the low light of flickering candles on ivory tablecloths atop dark wood tables.
The destiny of Louisianne’s Etc. itself began to unfold unexpectedly in 1992, when Gwen Bryan, co-owner, was 22. “I was working my way through college as a waitress at Da’ Cajun Way, a country Cajun restaurant with simple food on Monroe Street in Madison. John Hosking was the manager, and Kevin Ostrand the chef. The owner had a penchant for partying and getting himself in trouble.” Because the owner was seldom there, the staff held everything together, and the restaurant did well. However, when the owner went to prison, everything changed. “We thought about our options, and decided that since we had been operating the place on our own anyway, why not open our own restaurant? Maybe it would last only three years, but we were determined to give it a try.
“We chose to operate an upscale Cajun restaurant. John joined me as a business partner, and Kevin brought his cooking expertise and creativity for new recipes as the chef. He’d been cooking since age 13 under the tutelage of his father, who was the fish boil master at White Gull Inn in Door County, Wisconsin. … As we searched for a restaurant name, Gwendolyn’s was suggested. The name didn’t appeal to me, although we did like the sophistication of using a woman’s name. Since the menu was the Cajun food of Louisiana, we changed the state’s name into a woman’s name, and it became Louisianne’s Etc.
“We added an upstairs party room in 2006, and made Etc. the name for this part of the business. It was the addition of the party room that got us through the 2008–2010 recession. We wouldn’t have made it except for the Etc. party room for business events, wedding rehearsals, holiday parties, and showers.”
Louisianne’s embraces what customers describe as a French and European feel that is elegant with a romantic atmosphere. They come to enjoy their favorite food and listen to live artists every Tuesday through Saturday. Johnny Chimes has played here every week since 1993, and Jim Erickson, who has played twice at Carnegie Hall, can be found tickling the ivories every Thursday. For diners, the music doesn’t drown out conversation, rather adding to the ambiance whether seated in the restaurant (55 person capacity) or at the bar (35 person capacity). The bar features an extensive wine list, port and cognac, draft and bottled beer, single malt scotch, and premium tequila.
But no matter how in tune the vibe, the star of the show is the food. Gwen says, “The upscale Cajun menu we loved and had in mind for the restaurant had the New Orleans’ French influence of decadent butter and cream sauces. It needed to be modern instead of the old-school French influence of the fine New Orleans traditional Cajun food, like Vichyssoise and Coquilles St. Jacques offered at Galatoire’s Restaurant on Bourbon Street in New Orleans’ French Quarter.”
Louisianne’s menu features New New Orleans food, popularized by Emeril Lagasse in his cookbook Emeril’s New New Orleans Cooking, published in 1993. New New Orleans food is infused with new cultural influences, fresh ingredients, and a willingness to experiment with flavor combinations. It adds a vibrant new palette of tastes, ingredients, and styles. Examples from Louisianne’s menu are the lemon pesto shrimp and scallops on angel hair pasta, and tasso and shrimp fettuccine. Pulled pork crepes started as a sandwich from Monroe Street days, when they had a second location for 18 months called Louisianne’s Kitchen. Since Louisianne’s doesn’t serve sandwiches, it was updated to be an appetizer with chipotle pecan vinaigrette dressing served on mixed greens. Gwen’s favorite is the tenderloin cordon bleu, with smoked ham set on bordelaise bay leaf reduction that takes all day to make.
Chef Kevin has created an incredible menu. Not only do his entrées receive rave reviews, but his sauces also have a great reputation with those who appreciate fine cooking. The soups are included in the price of the entrées, so everyone gets to enjoy them. Customers also love the creative appetizers that extend beyond the ordinary. There are gluten-free options on the menu, and the spice is adjusted to customer satisfaction.
People who love Cajun and Creole food often come back again and again; in fact, many have been since the restaurant opened. The staff treats everyone like family, so diners of all ages, whether in their 20s or 80s, support Louisianne’s through the good times as well as challenging times. It’s popular for travelers during the World Dairy Expo and for local businesses, like Epic Systems, looking for a little bit of Louisiana on the streets of Middleton. Seems the verdict has long been in that Kevin’s cooking does Louisiana proud.
Lauri Lee is a culinary herb guru and food writer living in Madison.
7464 Hubbard Avenue
Middleton, WI 53562