Sunday, November 20, 2011

World's Best Gumbo - Nubian Queen Lola's Cajun Soul Food Cafe

One Saturday my wife Kathleen and I were in Austin, Texas, to visit family and see the Texas vs. Kansas State football game (brother-in-law Charlie has season tickets with great seats on the 30-yard line). Since it was a night game, we decided to check out the art venues of the East Austin Studio Tour. Going from warehouse to warehouse we enjoyed a diversity of talent, genres and styles.

At the end of an experience like this, Kathleen typically asks, "What was your favorite thing?" But my brain doesn't work that way, so I usually answer something like, "I didn't really have a single favorite." But this time I quickly responded with a clear winner. "Lola," I said. "The Nubian Queen."

Sometime around one o'clock on our tour of studios, we started thinking about lunch. And sure enough, inside one of the warehouses next to a wall filled with India ink drawings, a woman had set up a serving station. A customer stood there with a Styrofoam bowl up to her mouth, piled high with rice and sauce. "Looks good," I said. "What is it?"

"Étouffée," she said.

Nubian Queen Lola (2011)
Always the gatherer of stories, Kathleen engaged the server in conversation. She called herself Nubian Queen Lola, owner of the Cajun Soul Food Café in Austin, Texas. Kathleen asked, "When are you open?"

She had a big smile, a spoon in one hand and a baby harnessed to her back. Her answer was touching: "I'm closed on Sunday, because that's the day I go visit my husband. He's in prison."


"We open at five on Saturday, because that's the day I feed the community. I guess I do that every day, but on Saturday I go out into the community." I found out later that she feeds homeless people.


"We're open from 8 AM to 8:45 PM the other days. You need to come visit me at my café. You need to taste my fried chicken."

She was serving two dishes: Cajun gumbo and Cajun étouffée. Kathleen ordered one and I ordered the other, seated ourselves outside at a picnic table, and dug in. We shared. And oh my. My oh my oh my. Served on rice, it was authentic spicy Cajun gumbo made with filé powder, chicken and sausage. The étouffée wasn't greasy. It was peppery with crawfish, garlic, green pepper and onion. I had to go back inside and tell her. "This is the best gumbo I've ever tasted. This is the best étouffée I've ever tasted."


I took another look at this woman. Lola is more than a wannabe selling a couple dishes on the street. She's a serious businesswoman with strength of character, a real brick-and-mortar restaurant, a kick-ass website and a weekly radio show. She's an action-oriented woman with a big heart.


Now you see why Lola was my favorite of the tour. Her spirit inspired me! After the game I came home and wrote another couple pages for the draft of my book, "Conversations with the Wise Aunt," in hopes that my story might someday be as delicious and as helpful to people as her Cajun food.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength . (2011 photo by Kathleen Scott, used with permission)


Kathleen Scott said...

Lola's art is food. She puts her best into it and the result is rich.

Hodgesb said...

I'd like to go there as well as the Salt Lick this winter.
A overwelming YUM with a side of culture please.