To say that Battiste & Dupree Cajun Grill in South Euclid is slow is like saying the universe is expanding: it's just a fact of life. Fans of this quirky little restaurant in an overlooked strip center have come to expect glacial service from chef and owner Junior Battiste, who operates at a speed unto himself. For 10 years now, a committed and enthusiastic clientele has put up with that "leisurely" pace just to get their hands on this city's best Creole and Cajun cuisine.
"Eating here isn't necessarily faster than going to New Orleans, but at least it's cheaper and just as good," deadpans the wife.
How slow is Battiste & Dupree? Despite a dining room that seats all of 15 people, discounting the small bar, we saw a table of four wait nearly an hour for their appetizers. Another table endured equally long stretches between first and main courses, while we merely had to wait forever for our check. Battiste, for his part, ambles from kitchen to dining room, chatting up guests or checking up on his assistant at the stove. At one point, he actually walked out the front door of the restaurant and disappeared into the night.
"This is hidden-camera slow," added the wife, adjusting her hair just in case she was right.
Since first reviewing the joint eight years ago, I've been back to Battiste & Dupree a handful of times, always just long enough between visits to forget how truly maddening it can be. But as time passes, and the cravings for authentic gumbo, jambalaya and etouffee grow, all that remains is the desire to return.
Things are slow here because Battiste is a perfectionist when it comes to the food. Everything is made to order using proprietary spice blends, homemade chicken, beef and seafood stocks, and time-honored recipes and techniques, handed down from previous generations.
"My father was from New Orleans, my grandfather was from New Orleans, and my great grandfather was from Lafayette," Battiste told me. "This is the food I was raised on."
The "Dupree" in the name is Battiste's great granddaddy, a right and fitting tribute to the man who, ultimately, is responsible for that spoonful of gumbo in your hand. The dark and spicy – and I do mean spicy – brew ($13.50) is loaded with shrimp, chicken, crawfish and smoked beef sausage, which the chef prefers over pork-based andouille. In the center of the wide-rimmed bowl is a mound of steamed white rice, which does a fine job of tempering the cayenne-induced heat.
Etouffee is a rare dish in this town; great etouffee is an absolute ghost. Battiste serves excellent versions starring chicken, shrimp and crawfish. Pick one and order it. In the crawfish etouffee ($15), sweet tail meat swims in a spicy gravy thickened by roux and breadcrumbs. Again, the gravy surrounds a mound of white rice, and the whole dish is sprinkled with green onion.
For comfort food with a kick, order the jambalaya ($12), a medley of chicken, shrimp and smoked sausage in a tomatoey rice mixture. The spirited dish is fueled by good amounts of paprika, black pepper, garlic and cayenne. Equally comforting is the red beans and rice ($7.50), a thick and smoky mess of beans, smoked sausage and white rice.
If you want a fat sandwich, there are a number of Po' Boys ($15) stuffed with fried perch, catfish, chicken, shrimp and tilapia. Many of the entrees are combination plates that pair items like Battiste's killer fried chicken with red beans and rice ($16), or fried catfish with the crawfish etouffee ($17.25). Oddly, items like crawfish etouffee and jambalaya are listed on their own under the appetizer section.
Though dining here will never be fast and easy, there are a few things one can do to ease the pain. Check out the online menu ahead of time to see what looks good. Call ahead to make a reservation so they know you're coming. And when you sit down, consider ordering a beer or cocktail and an appetizer – maybe the thin and crunchy Cajun-spiced fried dill pickles ($8) – as soon as you get seated. But above all else, do not come when you're pressed for time as that will only lead to frustration.
Over the years I've watched the prices here steadily climb to nearly twice the original amounts. Granted, they were remarkably affordable a decade ago, but they've definitely reached their limit. Diners are more than willing to put up with slow service for excellent food at reasonable prices. But remove one of those legs and the stool falls over.