St. Lucille’s Cajun Kitchen Opens Tomorrow!

St. Lucille's Cajun Kitchen, 8 Emory Place, Knoxville, May 2024
St. Lucille’s Cajun Kitchen, 8 Emory Place, Knoxville, May 2024

Just about six months ago I wrote about St. Lucille’s coming to 8 Emory Place. Owned by Michael Frede and operated in conjunction with Aaron McClain, owner of the adjacent Crafty Bastard, the restaurant is now ready to make Knoxville a spicier place. They plan to open tomorrow with the kind of south Louisiana food you love, with a lot of Chef Eric New’s twists added along the way.

The space itself is now beautiful (it’s come a long way since I toured in November). The concrete floor has been polished up, but you’ll see the well-earned scars of its hundred years operating in a wide range of incarnations. You’ll find lots of exposed brick and wood. The massive skylight casts a luminous light on everything below.

St. Lucille’s Cajun Kitchen, 8 Emory Place, Knoxville, May 2024
St. Lucille’s Cajun Kitchen, 8 Emory Place, Knoxville, May 2024
St. Lucille’s Cajun Kitchen, 8 Emory Place, Knoxville, May 2024

The table tops once served patrons at the old Kopita and Kopita Meat, but refinishing by Lilienthal Gallery, with resin over gold-leaf, made each one unique and beautiful. Behind the bar, a series of classical-inspired panels by Ilana Lilienthal puts a new spin on the nude painting behind the bar. Another painting by Orel Brodt brightens a wall, and vintage French and other framed posters carry the theme of French culture.

The restaurant, which has a capacity in the 80s, features lots of double and four-tops. But it also includes the “family dining area,” where large groups or new friends can be seated together (another long table in the restaurant serves the same purpose). The cozy area. slightly apart from the other seating features a mantle (imagine a crackling fire) and a 1930s style original radio that Aaron said will still pick up AM radio signals. Instead, it will be playing the house music, which I’m told will likely be a mix of Zydeco, Cajun, and Jazz.

St. Lucille’s Cajun Kitchen, 8 Emory Place, Knoxville, May 2024
St. Lucille’s Cajun Kitchen, 8 Emory Place, Knoxville, May 2024
St. Lucille’s Cajun Kitchen, 8 Emory Place, Knoxville, May 2024
St. Lucille’s Cajun Kitchen, 8 Emory Place, Knoxville, May 2024

The original Miller’s Department Store metal plate from Gay Street makes a surprise appearance, anchoring the spot in its own city. To further that effect, a history wall will be installed featuring the history of Emory Place up to the present day, with historic photos and a bit of narrative thanks to Jack Neely. Perhaps a bit of a thematic stretch, you absolutely have to check out the Prince bathroom to appreciate completely.

The bar program will feature several Crafty Bastard beers on tap, and three wines, as well as a rotating cocktail on tap. They are starting with a Hurricane, but made with all local liquors, and Prickly Pear juice (“which can be foraged in Knoxville”), giving it a Knoxville twist. It’s the first in their KnoLa series, offering classic New Orleans cocktails with Knoxville ingredients, and promises to be lots of fun.

Chef Eric, who is from Knoxville, attended culinary school in Charleston at Johnson and Wales. He helped open Sunspot back in the day, and worked at Ella Gurus. Most recently, he’s worked with a food distributor and got to know Mike through that, as well as by being a customer at Last Days of Autumn. Over late-night drinks, the idea of working together took life and now has become a reality. Mike did some Cajun cooking at Last Days, and Eric said they realized that while there were lots of burgers, tacos pizzas, wings, Asian food, there wasn’t much in the way of Cajun food. They Googled it and Chesapeake’s came up. “We thought it would be a good opportunity for some unique cuisine.”

Chef Eric New, St. Lucille’s Cajun Kitchen, 8 Emory Place, Knoxville, May 2024
Barbeque Shrimp, St. Lucille’s Cajun Kitchen, 8 Emory Place, Knoxville, May 2024
Crawfish Dip, St. Lucille’s Cajun Kitchen, 8 Emory Place, Knoxville, May 2024

Of the basic concept, Eric said, “We wanted to keep it very simple, and as real and true to Cajun food as we can.” The result is a small, focused menu. Each category has a vegan or a vegetarian option. There are five appetizers, Hot Crawfish Dip, Praline Cream Cheese Spread (Sweet and Savory — Mike’s Creation), Barbeque Shrimp, Grilled Boudin (delivered from New Orleans), and Hop Cakes (Gluten Free/Vegan). They also offer a salad.

For sandwiches, they have a Hot Beef Po’ Boy (all Po’ Boys are served on Gambino’s French Bread from New Orleans), Andouille Po’ Boy, Roasted Cauliflower Po’ Boy (Vegetarian), Blue Crab Cake Sandwich, and a Muffaletta. “We get all of our bread from Gambino’s, which is a New Orleans bakery that opened in the 1940s. They (the muffalettas) are a sesame roll, half a pound of meat, two ounces of cheese, a really spicy giardiniera.”

The entrees include red beans and rice (gluten free and made with Camellia’s Red Beans), chicken and sausage gumbo, and vegetarian etouffee (gluten free). “Red beans and rice is a classic, and it’s supposed to be red beans and rice, not rice and red beans, so it’s substantial as a meal stand alone. “I learned to make a roux in the low country in Charleston and I’ve never deviated from that process. At Last Days we had it and some people from New Orleans said, ‘Just like grandma used to make.’ The etouffee uses Bob’s Red Mill gluten free flour, vegetable stock, kale, mushrooms, and garbanzo beans.”

Muffaletta, St. Lucille’s Cajun Kitchen, 8 Emory Place, Knoxville, May 2024
Vegetarian Etouffee, St. Lucille’s Cajun Kitchen, 8 Emory Place, Knoxville, May 2024

Urban Woman and I took a spin at a few items. She got a muffaletta with red beans and rice. We shared the hot crawfish dip and barbeque shrimp, and I had the etouffee. I’m not a food critic, so Ill not try to describe the layers of deliciousness. We loved it all and want to explore more. The crawfish dip and the barbeque shrimp topped our list of favorites. My etouffee had a perfect roux and the absence of meat did nothing to diminish the experience for me. We’ll definitely go back (and order less food — we were stuffed!).

The group is proud of the results of transforming an office space into a very cool restaurant space. Chef Eric said they wanted to start with a very simple menu and add things if they make sense. He said they will have “holiday gumbo” (with shrimp and crab meat, the way my Mamaw made it) “every six weeks or so.” He said “my gumbo game is strong,” and he make make gumbo a rotating variety monthly. They are starting with no dessert, but look for a bread pudding to be open soon. Also watch for for creative departures like a “red bean falafel.” Eric said he believes the restaurant will stand out and he expects it to have a long run.

Michael Frede and Aaron McClain, St. Lucille’s Cajun Kitchen, 8 Emory Place, Knoxville, May 2024

You’ll pick up a menu by the door, walk up to the bar to order, and your food will be delivered to your table. If you come this Sunday, you might find a tighter menu prepared in anticipation of crowds from Open Streets. Initially the restaurant will be open 4:00 pm to 9:00 pm Wednesday through Friday, Noon – 9:00 pm on Saturday and Noon to 8:00 pm on Sunday.

Follow them on Facebook and watch their website for updates.