First Look

The Free Man Cajun Cafe Brings Cajun Food, with a Side of Jazz, to Deep Ellum

The other day I drove past The Free Man Cajun Cafe & Lounge in Deep Ellum, where Sol's Taco Lounge used to be at 2626 Commerce, and later Googled them to see what the buzz was. One reviewer wrote that they had the best bread pudding she'd ever had. Pfffft! Sure. Whatever. I had to see about that. So, when I found a spare 15 minutes before a lunch date, I headed over to give it a whirl.

Looking over the menu as I was waiting for my pre-lunch dessert, I couldn't believe listed among the sides was "Corn Macque Choux." Get the fuck outta here. Macque Choux (mock shoe) is an authentic cajun dish of southern Louisiana (and LSU tailgating parties.) It's simple -- just corn, bell peppers, garlic, celery, tomatoes and onions, and maybe some seafood, all sauteed together in a large pot. But the fact that it's served at this restaurant seems to indicate that whoever created the menu has some legit cajun history.

That would be owner John Jay Myers.

"Both my parents are LSU grads and are from Louisiana," he told me yesterday. "So, I grew up eating the stuff."

Myers, who moved to Dallas 17 years ago, is no stranger to Deep Ellum. For years he played drums for a variety of local bands, but more recently wanted to open his own live music venue.

"I knew that I also had to have a good restaurant to make it work though," Myers said. "Growing up I always ate cajun food. I had gumbo once a week, so it made sense for me."

Myers collaborated with chefs to develop a menu based on what he knew and liked. Starters include a hot crab dip, fried pickle planks, boudin balls, and crab stuffed jalapeños. They also have the standard po boys, a muffalata ("or something like that," is actually what the menu reads), a couple burgers and chicken sandwiches. Then, the staples: jambalaya, etoufee and red beans and rice.

Myers told me everything in the restaurant is made from scratch, including the bread pudding, which has cranberries and sits on a swirl of caramel. Sounds crazy, right? But it's moist and, most importantly, fresh -- doesn't have that funky rubbery texture bread pudding sometimes has.

Myers suggested on my next visit I try the Voodoo chicken sandwich. "People go crazy over it. Everyone loves it. That with a side of macque choux and you're set."

I asked Myers about the name of his place. First, he said, Deep Ellum was built by "freed men." Second, there's never a cover to see the live music. (Jazz shows start at 7 p.m. and different acts go on throughout the night -- always free). Lastly, it's an tribute to his Libertarianism.

The Free Man is open for lunch and dinner everyday and has live jazz five days a week (and corn macque choux seven days a week).

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Lauren Drewes Daniels is the Dallas Observer's food editor. She started writing about local restaurants, chefs, beer and kouign-amanns in 2011. She's driven through two dirt devils and is certain they were both some type of cosmic force.

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