Despite the fact that I’ve lived in Chicago since college, I’d never actually been to the quirky neighborhood of Lincoln Square until Starr invited me for a meal at the Louisiana comfort food mecca of Luella’s Southern Kitchen.
Tucked in right off the main square, walking into Luella’s is practically paramount to crossing the Mason-Dixon line and finding yourself right on a Creole bayou near Nawlins’. Chef and owner Darnell Reed stays true to his Louisiana roots, infusing his southern cuisine with enormous flavor, while keeping the dishes accessible to the mild midwestern palette too. The space is cozy and inviting with warm wood-panels lining the walls and a bright blue ceiling for a vibrant pop of color! It’s the sort of space that energizes you for a delicious meal (if the intoxicating smells you were hit with after walking through the door didn’t do the trick).Luella’s is a casual spot where you order your meal at the counter first then sit down and relax while your feast is being prepared. Or if you’re looking for gourmet on-the-go, Luella’s offers takeout as well!
Aren’t the clever fleur-de-lis table numbers fun?Starr and I started out with this creamy She Crab Soup, topped with black and red tobiko and a brioche toast. Poured right at your table, this soup packs a punch of pungent and salty flavors all with one of the silkiest consistencies I’ve seen in a crab soup.
The tobiko, which I expected to compete with the brininess of the crab, actually complimented the dish beautifully and made for a fun textural “pop” in the soup. And the seasonings were just right, allowing the crab flavors to shine through while still remaining distinctively cajun. We also opted for a side of Lemon Cajun Seasoned Fries which had a spicy, zingy bite that complimented the more mellow flavor of the soup. I love this innovative combination of cajun and lemon — just like Luella’s space, it is energizing without being overpowering, flavorful without being overdone.
These fries are the perfect complement for just about every dish on Luella’s menu! Starr chose the Crispy Catfish Tacos of corn tortillas, cayenne remoulade and vinegar slaw for her entrée, instantly giving me “order envy” as I looked at the perfectly crusted fish dressed in exactly the right about of slaw and seasoning.
These tacos have a satisfying cornmeal crunch that marries with the pungent vinegar and creamy remoulade in a way that rivals my favorite fish tacos at Big Star. The catfish is light and moist in the middle too, not dry and tough as so many catfish dishes in the Windy City are. If you’re a catfish-loving fiend, these tacos are a must-try!
Another bonus? Most fish tacos are hilariously messy to eat. HILARIOUSLY messy to eat (it bares repeating again and again). But the proportions in Chef Reed’s rendition are executed perfectly making this the easiest fish taco to eat I’ve had in Chicago. And that makes this comfort food classic even more enticing since I won’t have to worry about wearing the remoulade on my shirt for the rest of the day.
I am a klutz after all!
But being raised by a true Southerner, when I see Shrimp and Grits on the menu, I can’t control myself — I simply must order it! Luella’s version is unique with New Orleans BBQ shrimp in a zesty sauce poured tenderly over true cream cheese grits.
I’ve had a lot of shrimp and grits in my time and I wasn’t expecting this little joint to have such a gourmet offering. The shrimp was beautifully seasoned which complimented instead of competed with the zesty bite of the BBQ sauce. And if you’ve never had the divine combination that is cream cheese grits, you’re missing out on one of the South’s most delicious comfort foods. The two components marry together in the bowl into a spicy magic of seafood creaminess.
Our one Luella’s regret was that we didn’t come in to try their brunch first! Seductive offerings like Bourbon Chicken and Waffles, Chicory Coffee French Toast (with a Coffee Crème Brulee Batter and Fresh Berries) as well as Chef Reed’s take on a southern benedict are only available on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 – 3.
We’ll be back very soon Luella’s!
Disclosure: I received a complimentary meal to facilitate this post. Review and all opinions are my own.