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Taking Quarter

Sunnyvale's Murphy Avenue sports a little bit of Bourbon Street

By Andrew X. Pham

FUNK AND GROOVE. And Louisiana roadside cafe grub. That's the French Quarter in short. Part cabaret restaurant, part blues nightclub and all around cool hang out, the French Quarter humps to a beat popular with a narrow slice of Silicon Valley denizens. From the sidewalk of downtown Sunnyvale, it looks faintly mysterious behind lacy curtains, but beyond the door is a slick club, throbbing with jazz, blues and R&B. Disco balls whirl diamond lights above two miniature dance floors while patrons belly around the horseshoe bar sipping beers and puffing on cigarettes. It is a hive of white tuxedos, African print shirts, sequin gowns, Hawaiian shirts, Fedora hats and wing-tipped shoes.

For those with an eye for value, the French Quarter offers dinner and dancing for about the price of a movie. The $8 cover charge is waived for diners arriving before 9pm. Nothing over $10 graces the short menu, most items averaging around $8. Soul food here is, for the most part, run-of-the-mill diner fare, but it is served by black tied waiters in a decidedly fetching restaurant setting, funky enough to stir up images of the real French Quarter of New Orleans.

The cabaret's groovy air put us in a festive mood as we chowed down gumbo ($7.95) under a neon "Gumbo" sign, picking sweet meat from crab claws and forking up chunks of juicy links. This gumbo, thick with shredded chicken, was gravy textured and straight up simple, certainly not one of the elaborate, bacon buttery stews. Salty and drippings-rich, the brown base clung to the shrimp, chicken chunks, sausage and crab like a heavy dipping sauce. A starch sweet side of white rice helped us put away every spoonful of the gumbo.

Our rib-eye steak ($9.95) was overcooked and hadn't been panned with Cajun spices as requested, but the cooks, wielding big ladles, didn't skimp on portions. The steak was huge as were all the side dishes which came in eight ounce terrines. That was the big thing with the French Quarter, no one went onto the dance floor hungry, not when he ordered dinner from the kitchen. Three sides accompany each dinner, including choices of collard greens, baked beans and rice, hush puppies (corn meal fritters), cup cake corn bread, candied yam, garden salad or French fries. Some other goodies that the regular crowd favored were shrimp and jambalaya.

The blackened catfish ($8.95) was truly black, drippy with frying oil, and marvelously fatty, the seared-on spices cutting the musky fish fat nicely. The filet was butter soft and would have been quite good had it been delivered hot from the frying pan. The staff said they were short handed. No matter, we washed it down with some bourbon and joined the jolly folks on the dance floor.

The French Quarter is a classy bargain for soul food lovers--Cajun style with a penchant for dancing the night away.

The French Quarter, located at 195 S. Murphy Ave., Sunnyvale (408/773-8700), is open for dinner and dancing Wednesday through Saturday.

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From the Nov. 6-12, 1997 issue of Metro.

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