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Kicked-up cuisine continues at Bayou Jones in Merrick

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The age-old saying “when one door closes, another opens” holds true in the restaurant business, and Bellmore-Merrick is no exception. But in the case of Bayou Jones, a new Cajun/Creole restaurant that opened on June 11, it took two doors —two restaurants — to close before it opened.

Last fall, The Bayou in North Bellmore closed after 32 years, and in April, R.S. Jones followed, closing after 26 years. When R.S. Jones co-owners’ Margaret Mueller and Carol Olkoski decided to retire, the opportunity arose to hand down the restaurant space, and Lisa Livermore, who owned The Bayou, was there to answer the call.

The trio has known each other for the past 25 years. “We had a lot of crossover in the Cajun area, and they loved the idea that The Bayou would resurrect in one form or another here,” Livermore said.

And so, Bayou Jones — an offshoot of The Bayou and R.S. Jones — was born. Livermore and her business partner, Staci Tucci, of Bellmore, opened the restaurant in the previous spot of R.S. Jones on Merrick Avenue, retaining the same menu, staff and down-home atmosphere local diners have come to love.

The revamped interior draws from the designs of the former restaurants: sparkly red string lights call back to the “magical, hole-in-the-wall” vibe of The Bayou, and a Ouija board evokes memories of R.S. Jones’ tact for voodoo. Technicolor posters from New Orleans’ annual Jazz & Heritage festival adorn the walls, and photographs of Bourbon Street and the French Quarter paint scenes of the city’s intoxicating culture.

While the physical landscape of the restaurant has changed, the food has not. Livermore brought in the kitchen staff from The Bayou to whip up house made Cajun and Creole dishes that are full of flavor and authenticity.

“Everyone nowadays seems to have something Cajun on their menu — it’s not necessarily the real deal,” Livermore said. “The Bayou was the first Cajun/Creole restaurant in the metropolitan area, and we’re continuing that authentic experience.”

Livermore was quick to correct any misconceptions about Cajun/Creole cuisine, saying that most diners avoid trying certain dishes in fear that they’d be too hot to handle. “Three-quarters of our menu is Creole, [which] is lots of flavorful, mild, yummy sauces, and is mostly French-[inspired],” she said. “But if you want it hot, we got it hot.”

The menu offers culinary classics as well as dishes that are off the beaten path. Grilled or blackened alligator bites are served with a tropical fruit sauce; chipotle and bourbon-marinated pork is baked in a casserole with a cheesy grits topping; chicken, crawfish or shrimp étouffée is smothered in a rich, roux-based vegetable gravy and served over rice; and pan-fried catfish swims in a mushroom-scallion cream sauce.

Another authentic aspect of the restaurant is Bayou Jones’ bar selection. Their hurricane cocktail is made with Pat O’Brien’s “world famous” mix. “Pat O’Brien’s is a very famous restaurant in New Orleans, and they’re the originator of the hurricane drink,” Livermore said, who said the cocktail is made with Pat O’Brien’s passion fruit mix and “a ton of rum.” Diners can also choose from 10 specialty cocktails, wine and craft beer, including three rotating IPA selections on tap.

The wait staff from R.S. Jones’ mans the floor during service, offering a friendly face for regulars as well as newcomers. “When we work we say this is our living room,” Tucci said, “and everybody helps one another.”

The seasoned nature of the staff, from the waiters to the bartenders and the line cooks, Livermore said, “make everyone feel at home.” And despite being open for more than two months, “Every night is like opening night,” she added. “It’s been a lot of fun.”

Bayou Jones is at 153 Merrick Ave. in Merrick. For reservations, call (516) 378-7177.