Roux was hopping during its soft opening early this week. Photos by Kevin Gibson.

Roux was hopping during its soft opening early this week. Photos by Kevin Gibson.

Looks like we may have a winner on our hands. A two-night soft opening at Roux, the New Orleans-themed restaurant by chef Dustin Staggers, has added to the already palpable buzz heading into its opening weekend.

On Tuesday, the place was hopping with happy diners and people marveling at the unique décor, featuring hundreds upon hundreds of photographs of the Big Easy (taken by Staggers’ brother and business partner Kyle), murals, lighting and more.

Meanwhile, the atmosphere in the old house at 1325 Bardstown Road that once was home to Le Gallo Rosso was a blend of throwback, cozy and moderate upscale, all Big Easy style. The front-of-house service was friendly, and while there was a minor hitch when my girlfriend and I had dinner there on Tuesday, it was still a two-thumbs-up experience.

The gatefold menu is an impressive start – two awaited us when we were seated at a table looking out onto the front patio toward Bardstown Road. Emblazoned with the tagline, “We are New Orleans,” these colorful, impressive menus are hard to put down. It was even harder to make choices.

We were left with a couple of tall glasses of ice water to ponder specialties ranging from a variety of po boy sandwiches to crawfish and shrimp boils, plus classics like crawfish etouffee, jambalaya, gumbo and more. If you really want to rev it up, the entrees menu boasts dishes like Stuffed Blue Crabs, Blackened Redfish, Roasted Crispy Skin Half Chicken and New Orleans Style BBQ Shrimp. (Entrees range from $15 to market, while the rice-based classics start at $11.)

Roux 2I kicked things off with half a dozen fresh-shucked Gulf oysters, reasonably priced at $1.50 apiece; it’s $16 for a dozen. The oysters were fresh and delicious, served with horseradish, lemon wedges and Crystal Hot Sauce (the New Orleans original). I washed them down with an Abita Jockamo IPA and pondered six more before I realized there was plenty more on the menu from which to choose.

Cynthia decided on the shrimp po boy with a side of grilled corn (three bucks extra); I went for the New Orleans Style BBQ Shrimp with a side of Oyster Au Gratin for an additional $7.

Considering how busy it was and how harried the staff seemed, the wait for our food was surprisingly brief. The only “oops” moment was that my server misheard my order and brought me the Stuffed Gulf Shrimp, served over bucatini pasta. But it was bustling, there was live jazz music trumpeting up the hallway, and it was the second night of a soft opening. He promptly replaced it, and we commenced enjoying our meal.

I had tasted the New Orleans-style shrimp previously and was smitten; I’m happy to report that I’m still smitten. Sautéed in plenty of butter and garlic, the shrimp aren’t what you might imagine – these aren’t your typical puny shrimp slathered in red sauce. These are huge prawns, heads still on, that one eats crawfish style: Remove the meat from the shell, make sure it’s covered in plenty of the savory butter, and enjoy. Then you suck the heads for that extra flavor burst. You won’t believe your taste buds. And while there were only five shrimp in my order, one of them looked damn near as big as a baby’s arm.

ROux 5“They look like mini giant squid,” Cynthia said, cringing each time I sucked the succulent juice from a shrimp head.

Also, the shrimp come with a slice of French bread, so when you’re done with the seafood, you have something with which to sop up the remaining butter sauce. Mmm.

The Oyster Au Gratin, meanwhile, was just what you think: chunks of Bay oyster in a creamy, delicious sauce made with Italian cheeses (Tallegio and Pecorino Romano), baked and topped with bread crumbs. It was served in its cast iron boat and was simply delicious. I could have eaten three servings.

But Cynthia’s po boy may have won the night. The sandwich was enormous, served on bread “imported” from a well-known New Orleans bakery (Leidenheimer Bakery) with big, plump, deep-fried shrimp, lettuce, tomatoes and spicy aioli, along with some damn impressive pickle slices (I always give extra points for good pickles). For a nice New Orleans-style touch, the sandwich came with a bag of Zapp’s Voodoo chips. Cynthia fell instantly for the sandwich.

“It’s everything I was dreaming of all day,” she said. There was a time when she would have said that about me, but whatever.

She also loved the corn on the cob, which was subtle but solid, seasoned with crawfish butter, Crystal sauce and chives.

Dessert came as a nice surprise as well – we were served a slice of Bananas Foster Cheesecake with a pair of beignets. I’m not a cheesecake fan, but the single bite I tried was creamy and understated. Cynthia loved it. For me, the beignets were the winners – those things were mouth-watering, and I’m not even a dessert lover. When Roux starts selling these with coffee for breakfast (yes, that’s coming eventually), they’ll be lucky to make them as fast as they’ll be selling them.

Rumors I’m hearing are that reservations are mostly booked for opening weekend, but a few slots are open on Saturday; call 502-530-0531 to grab one while you still can. Even if you have to wait a week or two, the soft opening promises your first experience at Roux will be worth the wait.