Cajun Café: A different kind of Southern comfort food
By Jennifer Kornegay
“Good? Everything good?” Every day at Uncle Mick’s Cajun Cafe in Prattville, Ala., this questioning phrase is repeated by a silver-haired, spectacled man strolling around the tables in a pretty packed dining room. He’s looking at plates, to see if food is regularly leaving them via forks en route to mouths. He’s watching those mouths, to see if their corners turn up in a satisfied smile after bites. He’s Mickey Thompson, owner of Uncle Mick’s, and he’s always there, ensuring his business is doing its business of feeding folks as well as it should be.
Thompson is from Montgomery and opened Uncle Mick’s in 2009 after leaving the real estate investment business he’d worked in for three decades. He’d actually been retired for a few years when he decided retirement itself was “no fun” and decided to open a restaurant in one of the two historic buildings he’d bought in downtown Prattville. The story is not unusual, a retiree looking to keep busy, but an Alabama guy opening a Cajun joint is, considering how seriously (and personally) Louisiana natives and others who love the cuisine take it if the roux isn’t right, the crawfish is overcooked or the Andouille isn’t authentic. So why and how did he do it?
“While I was still in real estate, I had a guy from Lafayette, Louisiana, a guy with real Cajun roots, working for me,” Thompson said. “I learned from him to love Cajun food, and then he taught me how to make it.” He knew that Cajun-style food would work well for a buffet-type eatery, and that would be simpler to run. “Our food, by its nature, can be cooked well in big batches,” he said.
So he restored the building and honed his recipes, and then he opened the doors, not quite sure what to expect. He started with a steady crowd and it has grown, as more and more people discover a different kind of Southern comfort food, something that’ll spice up their fried chicken and squash casserole routine.
Yet Uncle Mick’s dishes are not overly spicy, as some might expect. “So many people think all Cajun food is hot, but it’s not. Even some things that are usually spicy, we keep on the milder side and let people add the heat themselves,” Thomson said. And it’s easy to do, thanks to a wide range of hot sauces available. The exceptions are the dishes that end in “piquante;” they are often pretty fiery.
Most days around lunch, you’ll find a line, but it moves fast as folks grab a tray and then point out what they want their plates filled with. Choose from crawfish etouffee, crab meat au gratin, seafood gumbo, chicken and sausage gumbo, alligator and sausage sauce piquante, and the classic red beans and rice. Sides include corn maque choux (a rustic corn dish), dirty rice, deviled eggs and Cajun potato salad among others. For dessert, Uncle Mick himself recommends the bread pudding with bourbon sauce or the buttermilk pie. Choosing is hard, so a sampler platter is offered.
But how can you go to a place that bills itself “one bite away from the bayou” and not order red beans and rice? You can’t. So when you do, you’ll be happy to find a good consistency (not too soupy but not gummy either), and the subtle flavor of slow-cooked beans highlighted by the salt and fat of Andouille sausage. If you like your RB&R with a kick, you’ll be grabbing for hot sauce, but, again, there is plenty of it around. The provided bread lets you sop up every last drop. And try the Cajun potato salad on the side; the potatoes are cooked with crab boil seasoning, which is pretty hot, but the traditional mayo dressing tames it just enough. If your lunch sparks a desire for more Cajun cuisine, shop Uncle Mick’s market. Take home some house-made boudin or even that secretive beast of the bayou, a turducken (if you’re feeding a crowd).
And when you’re leaving, if Uncle Mick asks again “Everything good?” you should be able to truthfully say, “Ça c’est bon! (that’s good!)” in reply.
Uncle Mick’s Cajun Cafe
136 West Main Street