Twenty-eight years after he opened Dodie's Cajun Diner on Greenville Avenue, Charlie McGuinness was required to change its name. McGuinness moved to Dallas in the 1970s from New Orleans, and he’d opened up a Cajun-classics spot in a city where it wasn’t easy to find grandma’s gumbo recipe. Now, McGuinness has nothing to do with the Dodie’s chain you’ll find in Allen, Rockwall and just down the street on Greenville, the one humming across from the Blue Goose Cantina half a mile away.
McGuinness’ spot became Charlie’s Creole Kitchen last year. McGuinness was in business with his son Chris McGuinness when some family issues compelled Charlie to buy his son out of the original Dodie's. Later, Chris opened up a new, not-Charlie’s Dodie’s Reef down the street at 2821 Greenville (Charlie’s spot is at 2129). Then, Chris sold Dodie’s to Mark and Kelly Bunting, and Charlie McGuinness and his son sued each other in the process. There were tangles of bankruptcy, and the Buntings bought the name for $25,000, Charlie McGuiness says. The Buntings offered to let him buy the name back for $25,001, and he passed.
“I’m not involved in the chain whatsoever," Charlie says of the Dodie’s Cajun restaurants. “I had to change everything at my restaurant after 28 years. But nothing’s changed but the sign and the name. It’s my grandmother’s recipes.”
On a recent visit to Charlie’s Creole Kitchen, the Christmas decorations were still up, puffs of false snow around the windows, and McGuinness dove into lunch at his own bar. Fried green tomatoes and boudin balls were specials in season. The “Wall of Flame,” a shelf near the entrance for bottles of hot sauce for-the-taking, was half full. McGuinness finished his lunch, and wandered to a booth where two customers were chowing down. One customer had a bandage on the bridge of his nose.
“What happened to you? Someone said shut up and you thought they said stand up?” McGuinness says with a chuckle, and the customer laughs too. Oldies jump and jive over the speakers, and a metallic crawdad hangs from the ceiling. The kitchen's sending out, as it has for nearly 30 years, heartwarming New Orleans- nostalgia.
Things steam along, slow and steady, at Charlie's. Deep fried boudin balls, golden are spheres the size of a baseball with a core of sausage, rice and parsley, and come with crunchy-skinned discs of fried tomatoes. Quickly rising cayenne pepper heat from the remoulade clears the mind like a brushfire. Sharp mustard grains do the same. Later, a po’ boy with cornmeal-encrusted shrimp on pillow-soft French bread soothes. Gumbo was good, seasoned nicely, but thick and gelatinous. Boudin was under-seasoned, but the fried green tomatoes were wonderful. Both dropped at the table as hot as an engine.
“We don’t have a heat lamp. We cook it and serve. In fact, when it comes to your table, you have to wait on it or blow on it.” McGuinness says.
Most of the dishes start with the “holy trinity,” McGuinness says: bell pepper, onion and celery. The gumbo, etouffee, creole with shrimp begin with Charlie’s grandmother’s recipes, and, of course, roux and chopped veggies. The cold snap has knocked around crawfish season a little bit: McGuinness often gets his fresh mudbugs from Branch, La., outside Lafayette, and cooks them in their winter coats of seasoning. Few things on Earth are better than good, fresh crawfish and cold beer. The crawfish won’t come up from the dirt when things freeze, McGuinness relays, but they’ll have more soon.
How’s Charlie’s doing in a surging tide of change? It’s going, simply, OK.
“We survived the summer. It’s our least busy season. ... We’ve been here a long time,” he says, wistfully.
Recently, he’s had more issues: A struggle with the city on Charlie’s patio space.
“We had a gorgeous trellis there, and the city made us tear it down so we can add room ... we have a bunch of rent-a-bikes on it now.”
Now, McGuinness wants to reclaim his patio. Other than that, he says, it’s going fine. Soon, they’ll prep for Mardi Gras. He’ll hope for more shipments of crawfish. Charlie’s spot isn’t Dodie’s — it’s the one with the lobsters cooking joyfully on the sign.
Charlie's Creole Kitchen, 2129 Greenville Ave.