Belle Isle Bayou offers a taste of Southern coastal fare in Orlando's Conway neighborhood. And while it is not too far from the city of Belle Isle, the name refers to the restaurant's Louisiana roots.
Belle Isle is one of five "islands" — actually ancient salt dome formations — rising above south Louisiana's flat coastal marshes. (The most famous is Avery Island, the home of Tabasco.) The king of France commissioned a survey of the islands and when he couldn't pay the surveyor, he let him have his pick of the islands. The surveyor chose Belle Isle, which means "beautiful island."
The Belle Isle Bayou restaurant occupies a corner of a shopping plaza at Hoffner Avenue and Conway Road. Outside the entrance are a few tables, great for overflow but not for ambience. The noise from the busy streets and planes bound for Orlando International Airport detracts from the food.
Step inside and you'll find two spaces: a bar to the left and the main dining room to the right. We were greeted immediately by a friendly waitress who let us pick our table (there are booths as well).
The menu is ambitious and for the most part it hits the right Cajun and Creole notes.
We started with crazy Ivan's fried green tomatoes ($5.99). I don't know who crazy Ivan is, but he inspired a fine pan-fried appetizer. The breading was crispy and adhered nicely. My only quibble was the ultrathin tomato slices — just a tad thicker and they would have been perfect. Instead of a remoulade sauce (mayo, mustard, hot sauce, garlic, paprika and Cajun or Creole seasonings), a Ranchlike green goddess dressing came on the side. It was a fine departure.
The fried okra ($6.99) won lots of points for authenticity. As I have shared before, I am an unapologetic fried-okra snob. If you promise home cooking, the proof is in the okra. The sliced vegetable pieces should include the pointed end pieces and the crowns. And the drab green chunks never should be suffocated in poorly fitting commercial breading.
The sliced okra simply needs to be tossed in cornmeal (maybe a touch of flour, salt) and promptly delivered to its fate in bubbling hot oil. Belle Isle Bayou respects the pod. The crunchy, flavorful pieces came with a remoulade sauce that had a nice subtle kick on the finish.
The muffuletta (single serving $9.99, whole $18.99) was a behemoth offering for one person. The sandwich, which originated in 1906 in New Orleans, consists of a large, round loaf of Italian bread that is split and filled with layers of deli cheese and meats and then topped with a chopped olive salad. The cured meats and salty chopped olives were wonderful, but the dressing was off balance and left an oily finish on the palate.
We fared better with a fried shrimp po' boy ($9.99). The bread was ultrafresh and stuffed with plump, sweet shellfish.
Our waitress recommended the bananas Foster cream pie ($6.99. It was neither pie or reminiscent of a liqueur-infused bananas Foster. The loose custard, which came chilled in a ramekin, had an Oreo cookie crust. The flavor was pleasant, but I just might rename this dessert Oreo-banana pudding.
A nearby table did "ooh" and "aah" over the bourbon laced bread pudding ($6.99). Next time, I will have to give it a try.
The kitchen staff has a few minor kinks to work out, but Belle Isle Bayou is still a great neighborhood find.
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Belle Isle Bayou
Where: 5180 S. Conway Ave. in Orlando (at Hoffner Avenue)
When: 11 a.m.-1:30 a.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-1:30 a.m. Sunday
How much: Entrees $10.99-$22.99, sandwiches $7.99-$18.99
Extras: Family friendly, good for groups, takeout, delivery through homerundining.com
Wheelchair access: Easy
Music: 9 p.m.-midnight Fridays
Credit: All major
Online: Belleisle-bayou.com and Facebook