The first time I visited Belle Isle Bayou was in September, just after a trip to New Orleans. I know, that’s hardly fair, judging a Cajun restaurant in Orlando while I still had a taste of the real deal in my mouth. But Belle Isle held up nicely with a decent sausage po’boy and a cup of gumbo. The sausage (not called andouille on the menu, but “flown in” from Lafayette, Louisiana) was spicy and had just the right amount of greasiness in the bite, and the gumbo was based on a spicy dark roux and even had bits of okra in it, along with pieces of chicken and sausage. It was served with a scoop of fluffy rice on top.
For some reason, I didn’t make it back to Belle Isle Bayou until recently. But the food still was good enough to make me long for another trip to the Big Easy.
This time I had the jambalaya, the rice-based dish with hunks of chicken, lots of that good sausage and plenty of hot spicing. At first bite I thought the spiciness was too forward -- heat for heat’s sake. But as I continued to eat, the other flavors started to come through, and it ended up tasting more balanced. I liked it and would order it again.
My lunch companion had the catfish po’boy paired with a Caesar salad. He reported the catfish was nicely breaded and fried. The salad was an impressive size, even included small whole heads of romaine. I’m not sure it was anything Caesar would claim as his own, but it was a good salad nonetheless.
The dining room is stereotypically new Orleans and done up to look like one is dining outside. The far wall has a photographic mural of Bourbon Street and the side walls have shuttered “windows” and gas-style lamps. The ceiling is corrugated steel, and a bar runs along the other side of the main dining area.
Service was just OK, nothing special but nothing to fault, either.
The restaurant’s name has a double meaning. It sits on the eastern edge of the area in Orlando known as Belle Isle, but it also refers to an island with the same name off the coast of Louisiana.
Cajun and creole cuisine have had spotty success in Central Florida, something that puzzles and confounds many of us who enjoy it. It may never be the same as eating it there in Louisiana, but at least we’re starting to see places, like Belle Isle Bayou, who can make us feel we’re closer.
Belle Isle Bayou is at 5180 S. Conway Road, Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily, and includes late night hours to 1:30 a.m. Here is a link to belleisle-bayou.com. The phone number is 407-250-6763.