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Crescent City Beignets

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Whether it's a monolithic muffuletta at the Central Grocery on Decatur Street, legendary po' boys from Mother's or the ideal gumbo found just about anywhere, everybody seems to have a favorite New Orleans food and a preferred place to find it. Replicating these experiences in Atlanta can be difficult given the relative dearth of affordable (not to mention authentic) Creole options in town.

It was therefore with great anticipation that my friend and I traveled OTP to try Crescent City Beignets -- a small-scale chain whose only Atlanta outpost is along Roswell Road. What we found was a cramped dining room running alongside a small kitchen and an array of sandwiches and salads whose only connection to New Orleans is through names such as the "St. Charles" or the "Big Cheesy" as well as a small set of Creole dishes.

Round 1: An initial trip was disappointing. Wanting to try both sandwiches and Creole favorites, we chose combo options, including half a muffuletta and a cup of chicken and sausage gumbo as well as half a ham, swiss and tomato sandwich called a Royal Street with a cup of chicken and sausage jambalaya ($5.45 each). The sandwich halves appeared puny, with the Royal Street nearly equal in length and width to the ladyfingers used in tiramisu. Both relied heavily on too-salty cold cuts.

Worse still were the sides, with the jambalaya lacking the spice and intensity required to keep it from tasting like mild Spanish rice. The small cup of gumbo was made even smaller with a large pile of overly starchy rice dumped on top that drowned much of the flavor.

Round 2: We decided to stick to Creole seafood dishes on our next trip, with redeeming results. Tender chunks of sweet crawfish and shrimp surprised us given Crescent City's fast-food leanings. Crawfish etouffee ($6.45) featured a thick, genuinely roux-based sauce with a peppery spice that was the perfect complement to sweet crawfish tails. Though it wasn't entirely clear what was so Creole about the shrimp Creole ($6.45), the dish was addictively sweet thanks to a generous inclusion of stewed tomatoes to its roux base that would have otherwise been similar to the etouffee.

Happy Ending: Both meals ended on a high note with puffy beignets coated with just the right amount of powdered sugar ($2.55 for three) and thick, creamy cafe au laits ($2.25 for a regular). Here, Crescent City managed to exceed my expectations, which wasn't difficult given my serious misgivings about a chain's ability to replicate the quintessential squares of deep fried dough. I tried very hard to be equally biased against the au laits, which were pre-made and kept in large metal canisters on hot plates. They both proved to be so tasty, though, that we helped ourselves to the one free refill from the colorful bank of au lait machines and ordered a second helping of sugary beignets to accompany it.

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