Tucked over in a corner on the other side of the newly erected Ferris wheel and the P.R. Olgati Bridge sits a new addition to Riverbend in 2012: the Meo Mio’s Cajun Spirits stage. As I roamed through Riverbend during my somewhat-suicidal Riverbend food 2012 review last Friday and Saturday, I spent some time checking out this area of the festival as well.
The recently opened Meo Mio’s Cajun and Seafood Restaurant is a big sponsor at Riverbend this year, and the area where their stage is set up is a hidden gem that many may not notice with all the hubbub going on in the more heavily trafficked areas of the festival. The stage and seating is in a large, covered tent and has live bands every night during the festival, with the opening act at 7:30 p.m. and the headliner at 9:30 p.m.
Outside of the stage tent, Meo Mio’s has a food selection of a Cajun persuasion that is much different from food you will find anywhere else in the festival, so I decided to sample a few items. There is also a separate area with a craft beer selection of Fat Tire, 1554, Brooklyn Brown Ale, Highland Gaelic Ale and Highland Kashmir IPA and another area providing hurricanes, daiquiris and margaritas, both frozen and on the rocks.
The first dish I sampled was the crawfish on a stick. However, there were some complications. Because Meo Mio’s is making things to order, you order from one window and pick up your order when your number is called from another. The crawfish on a stick was a popular item while I was there, and someone else behind my number grabbed my order, but we eventually got it straightened out.
I was thinking it would be a crawfish kabob, but what I got was still good. These were more of crawfish cake balls on a skewer with a Cajun remoulade covering the top. This crawfish, pepper and onion cake had a flavorful Cajun kick, and the tangy remoulade provided a creamy texture to the moist cake mixture. It was savory, spicy and delicious. Because I was spending two days covering Riverbend food, I came back on a few occasions to order other items, and I did not have a mix-up again like this first time.
Of course, I couldn’t pass up the gator cup. These were small bites of alligator meat breaded and deep fried with a dipping cup of remoulade on the side. As I chomped these gator bites, a thought came to mind that I absolutely don’t like to say, but here it is: These really did taste a lot like chicken. While I cower in embarrassment from uttering that phrase as a food reviewer, if you gave these to someone and told them they were eating popcorn chicken, they wouldn’t think twice about it as they happily chomped away. The outer batter was nicely spiced and crispy, and the remoulade seemed to be the same sauce used on the crawfish on a stick.
Next I tried the ragin’ Cajun Buffalo shrimp po’ boy (a traditional n’awlins sandwich served on a French baguette, with this one a marriage of Louisiana, France and Buffalo, N.Y.). When attempting the first bite of this sandwich, I had a bit of a problem, though: Half of the baguette broke, and it almost fell apart. Thanks to my foodie ninja reflex skills, however, I was able to catch everything in the paper tray and didn’t lose a single morsel-it is skills such as these that help in becoming a professional eater.
After getting everything back together, I broke off pieces to make mini sandwiches that were easier to handle. This po’ boy was loaded with shrimp, lettuce, tomato and a spicy mayo that could have been the same remoulade from before, but I’m not sure because of all the buffalo sauce mixed with it. This baguette simply couldn’t hang with this ragin’ Cajun Buffalo stampede.
And what a stampede it was. Not taking anything away from the other items I sampled at this Meo Mio’s tent-the overall quality was much higher than most of the festival-but this ragin’ Cajun Buffalo shrimp was the best thing I had at Riverbend by far. I came into Riverbend with a low standard of expectation for all the food I sampled, but the shrimp on this po’ boy would have received a great recommendation on one of my normal reviews. These were succulent shrimp, very lightly breaded, and the spices both in the sauce and breading created an explosion of flavor. It really made this sandwich something special-even though it fell apart.
I also tried one of their virgin hurricanes, which came in a collectable Meo Mio’s/Riverbend yard glass, with refills available at a cheaper price during the whole festival. I’ve admittedly never had a hurricane without alcohol in it-oh, the memories of New Orleans during the millennium New Year’s Eve celebration, what a crazy night that was-OK, sorry, back to the review. A hurricane is a traditional New Orleans mix of grenadine with passion fruit (or other fruit such as grapefruit, orange or pineapple) juice and rum, although this virgin hurricane of course didn’t include the rum-you can get one with rum right next door, though, as they don’t serve food and alcohol in the same location. This was a refreshing, frozen thirst-quencher to carry around the festival, and the flavor was a sweetly strong mix that subsided as the ice melted.
During my two days standing in food lines at the festival, I was able to listen in on some of the sounds at the Meo Mio’s stage from the opening acts on Friday and Saturday: Remembering January and the Stratoblasters, though I missed the headliners from sampling festival food for my Riverbend food 2012 review. From this small music sample and the music acts I see on the schedule, the music seems to complement the Cajun spirit of the food with a lot of blues, funk, reggae, rock and soul. The remaining artists on the lineup are listed below with both the opening bands and headliners:
-Wednesday, June 13: 7:30 p.m. WTM Blues Band, 9:30 p.m. Mingo Fishtrap
-Thursday, June 14: 7:30 p.m. Pegs Boogie Kings, 9:30 p.m. Simplified
-Friday, June 15: 7:30 p.m. Mother of Pearl, 9:30 p.m. Billy Iuso & The Restless Natives
-Saturday, June 16: 7:30 p.m. Infinite Orange, 9:30 p.m. Jumbo Deluxe Band
Roman Flis is a wandering writer, focusing on Chattanooga’s food scene. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter or contact him at [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.
Updated @ 9:08 a.m. on 06/12/12 to add a hyperlink to the most recently published article from Nooga.com on Riverbend food.