Hurricane Katrina may have taken Martin Allred out of New Orleans, but it didn't take New Orleans out of Martin Allred. Like many after the storm, Allred, a Louisiana native, left his beloved state to start a new life. But the one thing he couldn't leave behind was his passion for the tastes of home.
A year ago, he and partner Jackie Hine (a former University of Colorado at Colorado Springs math professor who met Allred through mutual friends) opened Nawlins BarBQ and Cajun Cuisine in Falcon. Inhabiting two storefronts in a small strip mall, a far cry from any bayou of his former home, Allred stocks the counters with staples like chicory coffee, Luzianne sweet tea and boxes of Zatarain's crab and shrimp boil for purchase.
One side of Nawlins offers up a bright, family-friendly diner feel, with video games and crayons at the ready. Through a beaded doorway sits a darkened bar area with high-top tables and dart boards, where pennants of LSU and CU-Boulder share space on a wall.
Along with some tried-and-true Southern fare, the menu does include some surprises. Cut thinner than usual, the fried green tomatoes ($5.95) were light and crisp — a good start.
Allred uses pecan wood to smoke his barbecue, a preference he picked up when salvaging wood from his own pecan trees felled by the hurricane. The tender and juicy pulled pork ($4.95) brought the right amount of smoke (which I couldn't differentiate from mesquite), and the sweet and spicy homemade sauces on the table matched it beautifully. With exception of the sweet baked beans, though, most of the sides were unremarkable.
The kid's beef brisket slider ($3.95 for choice of entrée, one side and a kid's drink) and a grown-up spare rib platter ($11.95) with a thick bark of dry-rubbed seasoning also proved competence on the grill. Cajun-style jambalaya ($9.95), a platter of sausage, chicken, tomatoes and spices served over rice, boasted rich flavors. However, the rice was a tad al dente, and it arrived merely warm; typically, I'd expect to see steam.
Hits and misses arrived with the not-so-appetizingly named Swamp Platter ($22.95), a plate loaded with fries and topped with crunchy catfish, skinny frog's legs, gator bites and a soft-shell crab. The frog's legs could have benefited from some salt and a little spice, but the fried gator meat matched the zesty, mayo-free remoulade for flavor. Fabulously spicy sausage and jalapeño hush puppies came late, but worked well.
Also a winner: Nawlins fluffy beignets ($2.95 for three), fried dough balls covered in powdered sugar, which pay commendable tribute to the Big Easy.
Service at Nawlins is slow, and Hine admits she's ironing out kinks with new staff training. She's got a lot going on personally, and professionally — she's not only training a new manager in Falcon, but also is staffing a new location in Stetson Hills near the IMAX theater, the former home of Fuse New American Cuisine. (Expect a five-minute express menu for moviegoers tacked on to the regular menu there.)
Here's hoping things align just right, so that Hine and Allred can keep turning Louisiana's loss into Colorado's gain.