Our Gourmet: Cajun meets tapas at the new Madear's

September 26. 2017 10:47PM

175 Hanover St., Manchester; 206-5827; www.madears603.com

Lunch: Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; Dinner: Tuesday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-11 p.m., Friday-Saturday, 5 p.m.-1 a.m.

Cuisine: Cajun; tapas.

Pricing: Tapas, $6-$16; soups/salads, $7-$8; entrees, $10-$18.

Scores for Madear's
Atmosphere: 18/20
Menu: 19/20
Food: 19/20
Service: 19/20
Value: 19/20
TOTAL: 94/100

We’ve had Madear’s on our radar since reporter Doug Alden wrote about preparations for its opening way back in February (see tinyurl.com/ulMadears). We followed along on Facebook through spring, intrigued as excitement built regarding the opening of Manchester’s latest attempt at Cajun cooking, tapas style. We waited patiently through June as owners Robb Curry and Kyle Davis tweaked their HVAC system to comply with concerns raised by city regulators.

Madear’s was worth the wait.

Located on Hanover Street, Madear’s holds forth from a narrow storefront in a gentrifying block east of Pine Street, across from the city’s Hugh Gallen Apartments. Inside is a funky (in a good way) décor and color scheme. The bar runs down the left side, with two rows of tables surrounded by brushed metal chairs on the right. Walls are a dark red and the white tin ceiling is accented green. A small table, topped with books, a high-heel and a candle is surrounded by easy chairs just inside the door. The kitchen is in the rear.

The night we visited, with the Dining Companion (DC), FussBudget (FB) and an auxiliary Dining Companion (DC2) in tow, Curry was behind the bar. Chatty and jovial, he was quick with a recommendation or an explanation. His enthusiasm was contagious. Armed with a couple Cokes for OG and the FB, something stronger for the DCs (including a Hurricane, $9), we ordered a bunch of small plates as well as a larger dish for each of us.

Each tidbit, made to order, was brought out as it was ready, rather than all at once, allowing us to sample and savor the variety.

Ruthie Mae’s Corn Cakes ($4) came out first. Deep-fried cornmeal fritters were reminiscent of southern New England Johnnie cakes but were raised to another level by the accompanying tartar sauce. The FussBudget would have none, nor could we interest him in the complementary cheese biscuits.

Deviled eggs ($6) came next, three halves of hardboiled white filled to the brim with creamy yolk, delicately spiced with some paprika or cayenne and garnished with a nub of bacon. Delicious.

Next, in rapid-fire succession, came an Okra Trio ($6), a Stuffed Poblano Pepper ($6) a Jambalaya Arancini ($8) and Steak Tartar ($14).

Three okra each came three ways: fried, pickled and as chips. The DC, sticking to her meatless ways, commandeered the plate, declaring them all spectacular. She suggested we try the pickled, but she’d eaten them all. OG did get his hands on one fried okra. Papery and light, it was similar to a kale chip.

The poblano was our least favorite. The DC had ordered it, but turned her nose up when it had meat inside. DC2 and OG found the filling a tad dry.

The arancini was a ball of rice, breaded and fried a crispy brown, containing spiced chicken and andouille sausage. Cracking it open allowed pieces to fall into the spicy marinara underneath.

The tartare — tiny cubes of tender raw beef — was delightful on crackers, although the creamy caper sauce came close to overwhelming the delicate meat.

We still had entrees coming. The DC had come upon the Jambalaya ($10), which Madear’s offers in a vegetarian version. When it arrived, she fell in love with the aroma but was put off by bits of what appeared to be andouille sausage. Curry rushed from behind the bar, assuring her it was “fake meat.” It was, and it was the most flavorful “fake” sausage we’ve had.

The DC2 has been trying to perfect a traditional roux at home, so she wanted to try Madear’s Seafood Gumbo ($18). It was a hit. A large bowl of chicken, sausage, shrimp, crab legs and okra came swimming in a rich roux she found delicious and not too spicy.

OG, a fan of the fiery, went with Red Beans and Rice ($10), served “Robb,” after Curry explained the house seasoning code, named after himself and his three children. A bowl of beans, cooked to creamy and flavored with andouille and the holy trinity (onion, green pepper and celery), swam around a dollop of rice. Spicy, it brought sweat to our brow and a smile to our face. Phenomenal, though we’d have liked more rice.

The FB, having waited patiently for his Chicken Tenders ($7) from the “Young Adult” menu, was too full of Coke to properly enjoy the huge helping — with fries on the side. Most went home in a bag.

OG was disappointed at dessert by what we couldn’t have. Madear’s was out of pecan pie, so we made do with two orders of Red Velvet Cake ($5). The bright red cake, slathered with sweetened cream cheese frosting, was devoured while the DC, after a chat with Curry somehow turned to Moxie, sipped a Black Bear ($9), an alcoholic concoction Curry dreamed up to feature the noxious soft drink. She liked it.

Besides the great food, Madear’s seems like a place people will hang out, and you can count us among them. Despite all we ate, we didn’t even dent the menu choices, and the prospect of that pecan pie alone will draw us back.

Our GourmetManchester

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