On a recent weekend stay at Beech Mountain, N.C., I got the chance to enjoy some of the restaurants in the nearby towns of Banner Elk and Boone. One of the fun surprises I discovered was the Bayou Smokehouse & Grill in downtown Banner Elk.
I visited with a few friends on a Saturday evening. We were greeted and promptly escorted to one of the tables on the restaurant’s outdoor deck. Dining al fresco on the restaurant’s large outdoor deck offered a casual, slow-paced and relaxing experience. The deck faces a landscaped courtyard that offers a chance for young or young-at-heart patrons to play the popular bean bag toss game “corn hole.” In addition, child-and-canine-friendly four-legged family members are welcome on the deck and in the courtyard so long as they are leashed, according to the Bayou’s website.
The deck itself offers both a roofed and uncovered section, and my dinner party enjoyed a table in the open section with a perfect view of the late August sky. The umbrella-covered patio tables and chairs are made of a black metal mesh. The shade trees in the courtyard helped ensure a pleasant temperature throughout the meal. Some televisions are also located at different positions on the deck.
The Bayou is owned and operated by David Ammann and his wife, Winston. According to the restaurant’s website, Ammann was born in Texas and spent his childhood in Louisiana along the bayous between New Orleans and Houma. So, he comes by his interest in barbecue and Cajun cuisine quite naturally.
Our personable server, Walt, delivered menus and took our beverage orders. As we looked through the menus, we also enjoyed the bowl of complimentary peanuts in the shell. We decided to start the meal with an appetizer, and our choices ranged from Texas Nachos and Boneless Wings to Chili Cheese Fries and Fried Green Tomatoes with Cream Gravy. Some other tempting appetizer selections included a Jalapeno Queso with House-made Tortilla Chips, Southwest Eggrolls and Fried Dill Pickles. We came to a consensus and ordered a platter of Fried Crawfish Tails with Remoulade Sauce as our shared appetizer.
The ample helping of the crawfish, which was lightly breaded in a cornmeal batter, came served on a bed of lettuce. A dip in the accompanying remoulade sauce gave these mild, sweet and tasty crawfish tails a zesty edge.
After my dining party finished off the crawfish, we turned back to the menu to decide on main courses. Offerings are categorized under the headers “Bayou House Specialties,” “From the Heart of Texas” and “From the Soul of Acadiana.” The menu also offers a selections of burgers, po’ boys and sandwiches as well as seafood platters and dinner salads.
Among the entrees that grabbed my attention were Pecan-encrusted Trout, Bayou Smokehouse Ribs, Chicken-fried Chicken and the Fried Catfish Platter. I found myself leaning more toward the Cajun entrees rather than the barbecue favorites, so I ordered the Bayou Cajun Sampler, which offers four Louisiana favorites — Shrimp Creole, Red Beans and Rice with Smoked Sausage, Crawfish Etouffee and a cup of Spicy Shrimp Gumbo.
My dining companions chose the Texas-style Smoked Brisket, Voodoo Pasta and the Shrimp and Grits, which was one of the evening specials. My sampler offered the chance to substitute a side salad for the gumbo, but I wanted to sample this bayou favorite. My friend who chose the Smoked Brisket got to choose two sides — in his case, the Mashed Potatoes with Cream Gravy and Dixie Cole Slaw.
My friend with the Voodoo Pasta enjoyed this spicy dish, although he did caution that those with a low tolerance for heat might want to try another dish. I got to sample a bite and I thought this hearty dish of shrimp, blackened chicken, smoked sausage and penne pasta tasted quite flavorful.
Of the items on my sampler platter, the Shrimp Creole and the Spicy Shrimp Gumbo were my favorites. The gumbo, true to its billing, boasted a peppery zestiness. I could have eaten an entire bowl of this Cajun roux-based stew of shrimp, sausage and okra served over rice. I also liked the mild but flavorful Shrimp Creole, which consisted of plump Gulf shrimp and celery in a tomato-based sauce served over rice.
The Crawfish Etouffee featured crawfish meat blended with a zesty brown roux sauce and served over rice. Last, but not least, the Red Beans and Rice — probably the mildest of the dishes on the sampler — consisted of sausage (smoked in-house at Bayou) cooked with a hearty mix of red beans and rice.
The Shrimp and Grits pleased my friend, who liked the way the shrimp was served along side the cheesy grits rather than atop a bed of grits. He also ordered Fried Green Tomatoes along with his side order of green beans, both of which were nicely seasoned.
We decided to try a dessert, which consisted of three choices — Blackberry Cobbler, Mama Nita’s Bread Pudding and a Brownie Sundae — during our visit. In the same communal spirit of our shared appetizer, we agreed to all try a sample of Mama Nita’s Bread Pudding. This scrumptious and comforting dessert consisted of a cinnamon roll-like pastry baked in an egg-custard batter with bourbon-soaked raisins, pecans, cinnamon and other spices, all drizzled with a decadent, creamy bourbon/brandy sauce.
The outdoor dining deck remains open as long as temperatures permit. With the upcoming fall color season, the restaurant has plenty of hearty favorites that would make a perfect meal once that autumn nip in the air arrives.
Of course, the prime season for these towns takes place during the winter with the return of snow and skiing. Diners visiting during the winter can get cozy around one of the two fireplaces in the indoor dining room and watch sporting events on the wall-mounted televisions. The casual interior of the restaurant offers pool tables and video games. Seating is available at booths and a few bistro-style tables arranged around a large bar.
According to the restaurant’s website, Bayou offers some other amenities to make a visit a memorable experience. For instance, patrons can play National Buzztime Trivia for free. Simply ask a server or bartender for a gamepad.
On Saturdays and Sundays, the Bayou offers a brunch menu in addition to the regular menu until 2 p.m. There’s also “Aunt Lottie’s Make-your-own Bloody Mary Bar” every Sunday from open until close.
In addition, there’s a Bayou General Store located adjacent to the restaurant. Once you have finished your meal, be sure to browse through this interesting store with plenty of unique items, including a variety of condiments and sauces.
There’s also a children’s menu offering such fare as chicken tenders, shrimp, hot dogs, hamburgers, cheeseburgers and beef barbecue sandwiches.
Downtown Banner Elk in North Carolina is less than 45 minutes from Elizabethton. Enjoy a late summer or fall visit or remember the restaurant for the next ski trip you make to the slopes at nearby resorts. If you go, let them know they came recommended.
AT A GLANCE: Bayou Smokehouse & Grill, 130 E. Main St., Center of the Village Shops, Downtown Banner Elk, N.C. (828) 898-8952. Sunday- Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. and Friday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m. Dinner entrees range from $6.95- $19.95. Credit cards accepted. Carryout available. Selection of beers and wines available. Catering service available.