Talk about “family atmosphere” for a restaurant, and you probably mean welcoming warmth. You also could mean the place is overly casual. Thankfully, the first definition is the order of the day at Borel’s Cajun & Creole Cookery (2274 W. 86th St., 228-9928), an independently owned newcomer.
The story goes that the Borel family was talked into opening the restaurant by friends at its annual Fat Tuesday party. Now, rather than a once-a-year-affair, the Borels have created a brightly colored space filled with New Orleans signage and bead-bearing staff, sending a festive message year-round.
You order at the counter—choosing from eight Cajun concoctions, seven po-boys, and a quartet of desserts—and the results are brought to your table (or to the oddly small adults-only bar area).
I strongly recommend newcomers take advantage of the Try Any Three combo ($9); with an equally adventurous dinner companion, you can essentially create a buffet at your table. That’s what we did—bringing along a third to add a Pulled Pork Po-Boy ($8.95) and assist with dessert.
No prizes for the lackluster bread housing the Po-Boy, but the pulled pork, pickle, lettuce, tomato and Creole sauce offered hearty forkability. It’s a fixable problem.
The array of 4-ouncers we tried in our two trio samplers contained only one dud—the Chicken Cajun Pasta—shell pasta soaked in an uninspired sauce. The rest were all worthy of larger portions on return visits (They range from $3.50-$5.50 a cup and $7.95-$9.95 a bowl). The Jambalaya had a nice cayenne kick. The Dirty Rice was thick with chicken livers and gizzards to a point where the rice was difficult to find—unlike others I’ve tried where the opposite was the case.
Of the two Gumbos, we tried the Seafood version, which housed enough seafood to get small scallops and shrimp in every bite. Crawfish Etouffee with a dollop of rice plopped on top didn’t make us forget Yats, but held its own. The highlight of the sampling, though (and the one that was devoured first at our table), was the Hoppin John: black-eyed peas and sausage that worked with or without the hot sauce we kicked into it.
With Beignets ($4.50 for four) unavailable on our visit, we settled for Peach and Blueberry Cobbler ($5.95 each) that could have used more crust and less filling.•