Bryan Crosswhite, an economic consultant with the US Agency for International Development, and wife Melissa were fledgling restaurateurs when they opened the Cajun Experience in Leesburg in April. But if they lacked experience, they didn’t lack know-how. The Crosswhites drew extensively on their southern-Louisiana heritage and five generations of Bryan’s family recipes.
The restaurant occupies the second-oldest house in historic Leesburg, a clapboard-sided building converted into a charming 50-seat restaurant that would be at home in New Orleans. The Mardi Gras beads and feathered carnival masks are fun, but it’s the honest food that speaks to the Crosswhites’ intentions.
The star of the menu is the po’ boy—there are eight varieties at lunchtime—anchored by its delectably floury bread, imported from New Orleans’s Leidenheimer Baking Company. The fried-shrimp version features Gulf Coast shrimp with minimal breading and a sweet-spicy sauce. Crawfish étouffée is also excellent, its cayenne-spiked cream sauce complemented by the sweetness of long-cooked onions. Boudin balls, an appetizer, are tasty rounds of ground pork, rice, and scallions, fried just short of greasy.
If there’s a shortcoming, it’s the gumbo, which has well-built flavor but a watery broth that could use an extra dose of roux, the flour-based thickener that’s a staple of Louisiana cooking. But the Cajun Experience is, all in all, a surprisingly polished newcomer.
The Cajun Experience, 14 Loudoun St., SE; Leesburg; 703-777-6580. Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner. Starters $6, entrées $8 to $16.95.
This appears in the September, 2009 issue of The Washingtonian.