Excursion Spotlight: Dinner in the Blues Bayou
Helena, Ark., welcomes a recent addition to the restaurant and music scenes. The Blues Bayou brings flavor and soul with a home cooking, Cajun-inspired menu sprinkled with a touch of the Blues.
photography by Ashlee Nobel
The Blues Bayou Restaurant and Blues Club has quickly gained popularity throughout the Delta since its opening a little more than a year ago.
You may recognize owners Mike and Kelley Taylor, who are members of the band Big Red and the Soul Benders. The couple, who have both been involved in music all their lives, met and fell in love working together in a restaurant in Gainsville, Mo., married and formed Big Red almost 10 years ago. The band has competed four times in the International Blues Challenge and performed twice in the National Women in Blues Festival. They are also a past recipient of the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Award.
Of all of the many exciting places the two traveled with the band, Helena is the one that really felt like home. “We’ve played the King Biscuit Blues Festival many times, and we just fell in love with Helena,” Mike said. The couple was living in Mountain Home, Ark., when they decided it was time to venture into the restaurant business and relocated to Helena a year and a half ago.
“We are striving to create a blues club in Helena that can rival what Clarksdale, Miss., has — Helena is the home of the blues,” Mike said. “We host live blues shows twice a month here. The nightlife at the bar is starting to grow. Helena is a very poor town, and we are trying to pull people from a 50-mile radius. They are starting to hear about us and come see what we have going on.”
While Mike handles the booking and the bar, Kelley feels most at home in the kitchen. “I’ve been cooking in a restaurant for 20 years,” she said. “I also learned a lot about country cooking from my momma.”
Though Kelley is a St. Louis, Mo., native she has traveled and lived all over the country and developed a deep fondness for cuisine with a Cajun flair. “I wanted the menu to be very Americana with something for everyone, but with a slight Cajun flair. I love the Delta, and I love the bayou,” she said.
The menu showcases a great mix of Cajun and home-cooked entrees, including burgers; a BLT salad with iceberg and romaine topped with bacon, tomatoes and a choice of grilled or Cajun blackened chicken; fried alligator bites; chicken wings; catfish; rib eye steak; red beans and rice; shrimp etouffee; and much more.
The restaurant also offers daily specials. “My favorite part of the day is making up the special,” Kelley said. “I decide what I want to do when I wake up in the morning, and it’s just whatever I feel like cooking that day. It could be lasagna, roast or ham and beans … anything.”
Kelley said the most popular items on the menu seem to be the steak and Cajun entrees. On our visit to the Blues Bayou, we sampled a variety of items, each most enjoyable. We were first wowed with the biggest appetizer tray of fried delectables we had ever seen. The Deluxe Combo Plate came loaded with potato skins, mini tacos, breaded cauliflower, buffalo wings, gator bites, breaded green beans, fried mushrooms, mozzarella sticks and onion rings. This was not your average fried-food medley as Kelly prepares all of the flavorful batter in house as well as all of the unique dipping sauces (yes, she even makes her own ranch dressing).
For entrees, we sampled the Surf and Turf, which is 8 ounces of rib-eye steak, coupled with a rack of crab legs and a baked potato; and the fried catfish, which was two large filets (which are also available pan-seared or blackened) with a side of fries and homemade coleslaw. Each item was delicious; call us “country,” but we could have sat there and eaten the catfish and gator bites all day long.
For more information on Blues Bayou, search for them on Facebook, or call (870) 338-8839.